The Ritual (2017)

DIRECTOR David Bruckner
STARRING Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton
RELEASE DATE September 8th, 2017
RUNTIME 94 Minutes
COUNTRY United Kingdom

Reuniting after the tragic death of their friend, four college pals set out to hike through the Scandinavian wilderness. A wrong turn leads them into the mysterious forests of Norse legend, where an ancient evil exists and stalks them at every turn.

A hard truth to accept in cinema is that a film will almost never meet the expectations you set; in particular ones of great anticipation. Also, book adaptations are usually the worst of all letdowns. In rare cases, a film outshines the source material… This is not one of those cases.

This brings us to the attempt of adapting Adam Neville’s 2011 horror masterpiece “The Ritual,” a brilliant novel that blends survival horror with supernatural folklore, black metal culture, and a somewhat cult-like Lovecraftian twist. One would think the film based on such a great book would also be enough substance to birth a masterpiece on the big screen… No, and that why I feel so dumb for even assuming they could adapt the page-turning terror.

It seems the one factor that separates the art of writing and film making: Money! This film sacrificed the integrity of such a fine body of work for an attempt to “cash in” on the horror market as well as being a conspirator in the recent “Netflix Monopoly.” Call this harsh criticism if you must but save your breath and go read the novel. Then send me an email and tell me I’m wrong!

A critical error is the lack of character development. It is understandable that certain content, which turns out to be a significant amount, being removed to comply with limitations of time and other “cinematic guidelines.” But to add an irrelevant “I should’ve have saved him” plotline to dissolve the essence of “Luke” into some guy with a guilty conscience instead of a man coming to terms with his aging existential crisis while also deserting content that makes the original story so unique is just a lack of creativity aka LAZY MONEY HUNGRY PRODUCERS! Not to mention, the group of friends gets picked off like it a fast-paced slasher with cheap scares. Don’t expect to get to know these characters on a relatable level.

Before completely breaking this film’s spirit let us give credit where it is due. The acting was good, music was haunting, and the deaths are decently bloody. We all love a good bit of gore! Ultimately the cinematography delivers painterly shots of the desolate wilderness to create a terrifying sense of isolation and hopelessness. Also specifically there is a scene towards the conclusion in which Luke is in the attic with living corpses and it is almost spot on with the depiction in the novel…Almost doesn’t quite cut it though! Now praise has been given so let’s return to gutting this atrocity like the creature in the story.

Speaking of the creature…it was nothing how originally imagined. So shame on me right? Why not use more practical effects rather than poorly developed CGI? Some features were kind of creepy such as its ability to project inner desires (or shape-shift or whatever?) and a scene in which the creature makes Luke gaze into an abysmal void in its chest cavity. As a whole though, the beast looked like a giant deer straight out of a SyFy original movie.

It is unfortunate that director David Bruckner, who seemed like the perfect candidate with a catalog of great work such as Southbound and his segment “Amateur Night” from V/H/S, failed to reciprocate the dreadful encounters depicted in the novel. What is most bemusing is that author Adam Neville supports this adaptation but if a major motion picture deal is involved the cash seems to speak for itself.

So what can we learn from this film? Pessimism. Don’t have high hopes for a personally anticipated film because it will most likely be a disappointment. It was expected to be an appropriate interpretation of a magnificent work of horror literature but instead it was just another “scary movie.” Is some horror only meant for the pages of a book? It seems that is the only conclusion we can come to draw. Once again, call this a harsh critique but a better choice would be to go read the damn book. That you will not regret!

The Ritual is now streaming on Netflix.