Forget The Cloverfield Paradox, a movie has arrived on Netflix that has all the tension, scares and mood that the space flop was missing. The Ritual is a cracking horror movie and one of those rare examples where the film improves on the source material (a 2008 novel by Adam Nevill).
Partly it’s the setting, a big expanse of mountains and trees in Sweden. European forests are so full of potential monsters at this point it’s enough to make you a real fan of bonfires, and the relationship between the four men trudging through the wet woods while seething with resentment, guilt and grief is tightly written. This isn’t one of those horror films where the main roles are just played by stereotypes with fake boobs and faker teeth.
Rafe Spall is the main hero of the story, and gives the rough round the edges everyman character a bit of bite, but also just enough soul to make you root for him. He plays Luke, who is juggling a potent cocktail of survivor guilt and irritation as the group gets lost among the trees, and has to step up when shit gets weird.
He’s backed up by Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier and Sam Troughton who are all perfectly cast, and instantly recognizable to anyone with even a handful of friends. You won’t recognize Downton Abbey’s James-Collier as Hutch, but you will be grateful for his character's reactions to the all the spooky madness. He’s one of those rare horror film characters who actually acts sensibly in the face of the uncertain.
Novel ideas, almost perfect execution
The film strays from the book's story in the third act, but for the better. Where the novel shifted so suddenly into a new scenario that it gave you whiplash, the movie’s script is much better at sticking with what made the themes of arcane runes, spooky sounds - and the odd gutted corpse strung up like Christmas lights - so nightmarish.
It’s no surprise that the director, David Bruckner, is the same man behind weird horror anthology Southbound. You got a glimpse of his potential there in the weird ideas, and he’s proved he can handle a big adaptation with a decent special effects budget without losing his edge.
So whatever you think about Netflix and that sci-fi catastrophe, just know that it’s still got a good eye for horror.