So there has been a lot of buzz about The Ritual, and I finally sat down and watched it myself. For those unaware, The Ritual is a Netflix horror movie based on a novel of the same name. I have not read the novel so I will not be attempting to compare the two, and rather just focusing on the film itself. The movie starts with a group of friends, Phil, Dom, Hutch, Luke, and Rob trying to plan their guys trip for the year. Luke later expresses some dislike for members of the group to Rob when they stop at a liquor store. Rob and Luke are confronted by people robbing the store, and Luke hides while Rob is later killed.
The surviving friends decide to go on a hiking trip in Rob’s memory. It is unclear how much of what happened in the store the group knows, only that there is a certain level of distrust because Luke survived while Rob did not. Dom falls and twists his knee, leading Hutch to suggest that the group goes off the path to shorten their trip back to the lodge. From there, things fall apart and fall apart quickly.
Now, on the one hand, I ultimately get the hype of this movie, what it does well it does well. It plays with the sense of being lost and almost oppressed by going through the woods. There are many shots where you are getting the character’s perspective, and all they can see is trees that look the same surrounding them. Before the guys even reach the “scary” part of their journey they are already being played with by the forest itself. What is troublesome about the woods for the characters become troublesome for the viewer, and I love this.
As they go deeper into the woods, they get stuck in a storm and decide to stay in an abandoned cabin. While there they discover that it is used for some form of witchcraft or something unnatural. Luke, who has been uncomfortable with the plan from the start, begins to express his feelings to the group. Hutch who is seen as the leader says they should just stay the night and stay the course. The choice to stay the night sets off a series of events that make up the rest of the movie.
From there they are not only stuck in the forest itself but apparently being hunted by something or someone. They continue to get lost, injuries get worse, and the group breaks down more and more. Aside from that they also start to get picked off one by one. We as the audience are given the perspective of Luke, and while everything is happening, he is also being haunted by his guilty conscience of what happened to Rob.
It is extremely effective and makes for an uncomfortable experience. The man vs. nature aspect that was already set up perfectly now has a supernatural and psychological element which plays out well. The movie also plays at just giving the audience hints for the most part. We see creepy symbols, implications of something worse (such as at the cabin), but are given no real explanation for anything. We are left in the dark just as the characters are. This works to the movie’s advantage. While seeing only what they do we get a sense of their fear, and it starts to play with us as the viewer. It is well done, and I love it.
Then we get to our third act.
For many people, this is where the movie picks up, but for me, I was almost entirely lost at this point. The third act is extremely rushed and not fully fleshed out. We get a short explanation of what has been happening to the men while they are lost and then a disappointing climax. Luke is left to confront what has been hunting them, and we are done. What?
There are a lot of reveals that are meant to have an impact, but none of them really land. The sense of dread that I had up until that point was completely replaced by a rushed feeling. Luke having to fight instead of just hide is something that has been weighing over the audience the entire movie, so it’s a let down that it’s rather brief. The problem is there are some interesting things happening in the third act, but none of them feel finished. It is not necessarily bad, but it is a letdown. It’s even a further let down when you realize the movie is only 94 minutes. They could have easily added to the third act, and as long as what was added was good, it wouldn’t have damaged the movie at all.
I also did not like the design of the creature. It seemed as though about five people all had a hand in it, and none of them was an editor. I wanted to be truly terrified when I saw what was hunting the men, and I was not.
In spite of this harshness, the movie is far from bad. The first two acts are suspenseful and have truly terrifying moments. The third act, while a disappointment, is not bad. The final scene is also something rather spectacular. Overall I enjoyed the film a great deal; I just found it to be slightly over-hyped. A good horror film? No doubt. One of the best? No. It is entertaining, well acted, good score, and sufficiently scary. However, it will not stick with me, and I felt it had a lot more potential than what it ultimately delivered. I think fans of the genre should see it, but I think going in expecting as much as people keep suggesting won’t pay off for some people.