Director: David Bruckner
Starring: Ralf Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid
Written by: Joe Barton and (based on the novel) Adam Nevill
Running Time: 94 mins
Release date: 13th October 2017
British horror films are now like buses. You don’t see one for ages and then two come along all at once. This week saw the release of Double Date, a low budget horror that has a limited cinematic release and the far more high profile, The Ritual, which comes from Andy Serkis’s Imaginarium studio and has had a pretty decent advertising campaign that had to be changed for fear of causing offense (The tagline: They should have gone to Vegas was altered to Ibiza after the tragic events in Las Vegas). This, however, hasn’t altered the film which is a heady mix of horror and comedy that, while elements work, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
After the death of their friend, Robert, in an off-licence robbery, four college pals decide to go on a hiking holiday in Sweden as a bonding exercise but also in tribute to their late companion. Ther four men bicker and banter until one injures his foot. In order to make the journey shorter, they decide to head through the woods, instead of the longer route around them. Once inside, they discover strange noises, odd patterns of trees destroyed and a creature hanging from the trees with its guts ripped out. They then stumble upon a deserted log cabin with some odd artefacts inside. This soon triggers paranoia among the group as they harbour secret feelings towards Luke, the one friend who went into the shop and didn’t save his friend. There’s also something else lurking in the woods.
Directed by young horror filmmaker David Bruckner and based on a novel by Adam Nevill, this nods its head towards several horror classics, such as The Blair Witch Project, Evil Dead and The Wicker Man, while managing to inject a little originality, mainly in making the protagonist all male. So often horror films have relied on the central characters being a mix of scared females and macho males. Here we have four ordinary men, each with their own backstory, and each just a frightened as the next.
Starting the film like an Edgar Wright, male-bonding exercise, the film takes a shocking first step when Robert and Luke enter the off-licence, reminiscing about holidays past only to find themselves in a nightmare situation that leaves Robert dead and Luke cowering behind a shelf. Jump six months and the rest of the group say they don’t blame Luke for what happened, even though it is obvious it’s eating him alive and setting the scene for what is not going to be the holiday of a lifetime.
Once in the woods, the film does take predictable turns. The unsettling noises coming from the endless lines of trees, the mysterious carvings and an unseen creature that screeches and screams during the night. Bruckner has the good sense of never revealing the creature until it is absolutely necessary, allowing the audience a chance to use their imagination. Alas, its while they are in the woods that familiarity sets in. This is a standard horror setting and so all the elements that are supposed to shock and scare feel more like routine than fresh and new.
The team of male actors work well together with the always watchable Ralf Spall doing his best as the guilt-ridden Luke, a man with images of his friend’s death lingering over him while trying to prove to the others that he is not the coward they think he is. Special mention must go to Robert James-Collier as the annoying friend who you just want to leave in the woods.
The Ritual does have some unsettling moments but the second you start comparing it to other horror films, then you have lost that sense of fear. The opening promises so much and the scenes between the friends work well but this is a film that we’ve been to before, which is a shame as Bruckner is a talented director for this kind of film and the cast work hard but it just didn’t do it for me.