The Ritual offers up an interesting adaptation of a troubled novel.
The Ritual is an adaptation of a novel of the same name. The novel can be broken into two halves, and for many the second half is the problem. I don’t often discuss source material, but I was curious to see what the film adaptation would do with such a problematic end to an otherwise interesting tale.
Four friends travel to the bordering area of Sweden/Norway to honor the memory of a friend who was killed the previous year. The interactions between the four men are interesting, and we do see some strong performances here. Luke (Rafe Spall) is the one who we follow the most, and he is reeling with guilt from their friends murder. Luke hid during a robbery and did not intervene on his friend’s behalf. His guilt compounds within the film, and we can see him becoming increasingly isolated.
The four take a shortcut through a dense Swedish forest after Dom (Sam Troughton) injures his knee. Dom and Luke are the most developed characters, and the other two kind of fall to the wayside a bit. All give strong performances, but we couldn’t have enough screen time for everyone with the fairly short running time.
It doesn’t take long for Luke to realize that something is amiss in the forest. Bizarre runes, eviscerated animals, lucid nightmares, and the belief that something is stalking them sets in almost immediately. Why the four don’t turn around isn’t entirely clear, but the film does push the notion that they believe they are close to the forest’s edge.
I have seen some argue that this film is too derivative, and it might be. The cabin-in-the-woods or lost-in-the-woods trope has been done a lot. However, I enjoy this sort of story. The natural beauty of the Swedish woods makes the film pleasing to look at, and there has always been something about this type of narrative that draws me in. Objectively, there are some issues with the film—mainly that it follows these tropes without much deviation.
Minor spoilers ahead.
The film (and the source text) split when we go from a lost-in-the-woods story to a cult story. There are numerous explanations for what is exactly happening, and it all feels a little thin. I do think the film expands upon the novel’s ideas in a stronger and more interesting way. The second half is weaker, sure, but it isn’t a complete disaster. The transition doesn’t fully work, and the feeling of the story is disrupted. The disruption of setting makes the viewing experience somewhat off. Further, the second half doesn’t exactly add anything new to the formula. One can more or less predict what will happen.
The monster within the forest is interesting. The character design is unique, and I enjoyed seeing it from a distance. I do think they give it a little too much screen time in the end though, and this sort of breaks the spell.
The film has a lot of interesting aspects, and the first half does deliver quite well on many factors. The second half is still problematic, and forces the film to end on a weaker note. I loved the first half—spooky shit happening in the woods is just the tops for me. However, I am not certain this is going to have a lot of reach beyond fans of the genre. A well made, but predictable film. Watch on a rainy day. 6/10