There’s always a challenge when watching movies and attempting to review them where one has to interrogate whether they are judging the movie as it is versus the movie you want it to be. The Ritual has so many elements of other films, a little Blair Witch Project here, a little The Babadook there, that it’s tough to separate the film from these influences. But is it correct to judge a movie based on what it’s pulling from?
After sleeping on the film, it’s become clear that the movie, by virtue of hewing so close to the elements of other movies, that it ends up not knowing what kind of movie it is. The Ritual takes its premise and goes on the most bland and anticlimactic path towards it’s ending. It’s a will to live movie, how much are you willing to go through to survive and can you overcome your past, and one that slowly but surely moves away from the more psychological, cerebral film into a cult monster movie.
It is a truly disappointing transition because the movie is set up in a very interesting way. Five men sit in a pub and wonder about where they’re going to spend a lads’ weekend. It’s a funny conversation as these friends from college are all dealing with their lives as they currently are, kids, wives, and jobs complicating what used to be harmless fun. Luke decides that he wants to stop at a liquor store and Robert (Paul Reid) joins him. Unbeknownst to the two, the store is being robbed, and Robert is killed, while Luke can’t do anything but hide. In the aftermath of this, the four remaining men (Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton) decide to do what their slain friend would want and hike through the mountains. They decide to take a shortcut and like most horror movies, this puts them on a path towards extreme terror.
There’s an underlying layer of depression, anger, and regret that lingers over this movie. In combination with the grey weather of the mountains and the unrelenting width of the forest, it’s a great place to force characters to think about their problems and offer them no escape from them. A hiking trip was also a stroke of genius choice because it forces our characters to have to rely on each other and be in the same space. When all the men decide to sleep in a creepy cabin, you know that there will be no secret or non-shared experience.
But the movie takes this really interesting thing and the creepiness of something being in the woods and just squanders the premise. Sure it forced Luke to confront his demons in a way but The Ritual is so sloppy in how it tries to tie his will to live, it’s monster, and what happens to the characters. In expanding the world considerably (as much as you can in a contained forest), the movie’s third act falls apart completely and leaves The Ritual as a disappointing way to spend just under two hours.