Swedish meat and balls.
Four British friends on a hiking trip through Sweden encounter an elemental evil that crucifies people and eats their innards. This ain’t your daddy’s Swedish Chef.
The hook in THE RITUAL is its crescendo of fear. With a chilling soundtrack that is disturbing all by itself, when added to the morbid events that bedevil the four friends, it makes for a hair-raising night grabbing your date on the Netflix couch.
Movie opens with five friends having a drink, and debating where to go for their annual holiday; they’ve all grown older and cynical, and Robert (Paul Reid) suggests hiking through Sweden— “Sweden?!” guffaw his friends… Later that night, Robert is beaten to death in a random liquor store robbery – so it’s Sweden, I guess, in honor of dead Robert.
A subplot is hinted when Luke (Rafe Spall, PROMETHEUS) looks on helplessly from cover, opting not to help Robert. There seems to be accusation in Robert’s eyes as he looks back at Luke, as a final bludgeon takes his life. Later, in the stressful dark of the woods, Luke would be accused of being a coward by his remaining friends, and we ponder on how his redemption might come… but it doesn’t. This potential subplot is effectively negated when the last man standing is Luke, who thus cannot save anyone else to redeem himself…
The friends are Phil (Arsher Ali, FOUR LIONS), Hutch (Robert James-Collier, DOWNTON ABBEY, the tacit leader of the group, with his second banana being Luke), and Dom (Sam Troughton, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, token doughy guy).
Of course it’s doughy Dom who hurts his leg, necessitating a journey through a forbidding forest instead of around it. And in this dank, bone-chilling greenery, an ominous dread enshrouds us. Nerve-wracking sound design dogs the friends’ every step, as they see strange markings on trees and hear unidentifiable noises (shades of BLAIR WITCH – that pioneering movie has cornered the market on ominous forests), while Luke becomes aware of something big and carnivorous stalking them. The disemboweled animal crucified in a tree brings everyone onboard with that premonition.
Night falls and the friends come upon a deserted cabin. Overlording one of the rooms upstairs is an effigy struck in branches and antlers. They all sleep downstairs.
Dreams of the mugging, dreams of swirling unnamed terror, dreams of sin and suffering – as Luke wakes to find all his friends in states of delirium, crying out in fear of their hallucinations, and Phil kneeling naked before the effigy upstairs.
From a novel by Adam Nevill (The Ritual, St. Martin’s Press, 2011), Joe Barton screenplays like a shadow man is waiting under his bed, and David Bruckner directs like the shadow man has grabbed his leg.
THE RITUAL lands the four friends as chained prisoners in a commune of acolytes who fearfully worship an ancient forest god. A scarred young woman tells Luke that the god keeps them imprisoned and demands ritual sacrifices. As ludicrous and fanatic as that sounds, if an entity can appear to different people as different visions, then that’s EVIDENCE for it being actually super-natural and – if not an actual god – god-like.
As horrific as it is, it may have been a filmic misstep to reveal the nameless entity in the final scenes, as some kind of ungulate with the body parts of a human, as it now must comply with real world physics, as opposed to being an unseen thing that was probably bending the laws of physics to administer its guttural psychological terror.
The creeping music drilling into your skull, the lodge full of mummified humans in pews like church, the physical torture, the rending of flesh, the hoofed beast… no wonder the Swedish Tourism industry is taking a hit…