“If a shortcut were a shortcut, they wouldn’t call it a shortcut, they’d call it a route” – Dom
The Ritual is David Bruckner’s seventh feature to his credit and fifth film in which he directed, adapted from the 2011 novel of the same name by Adam Nevill. If you’ve seen the film, read the excerpt below and you will note that the filmmakers didn’t stray far from the novel’s story and atmosphere.
Excerpt from the book:
“Something responsible for the bestial presence that follows their every step. And as the four friends stagger in the direction of salvation, they learn that death doesn’t come easy among these ancient trees…”
“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.”
I’ve watched The Ritual four times since it was released on Netflix and – in all honesty – I love this movie. To be fair, I have a strong affinity for creature features so maybe I’m a little biased. But… that being said, I found this particular addition to the sub-genre to be a cut above the rest.
What sets The Ritual apart:
First of all, Bruckner’s direction took a relatively simple concept – A group of friends lost in the woods find that isolation and exposure to the elements is the least of their problems, when they discover a superior being with nefarious intentions – and elevates it through his use of tracking shots and stunning cinematography.
You may be familiar with director David Bruckner from his work on the first segment from the original VHS anthology, Amateur Night. In Bruckner’s short, three college friends – one equipped with glasses which includes a camera – ditch their hotel for a night on the town in the hopes of bringing women back to their room to make an impromptu and secretive sex tape. They meet a woman named Lilly who turns out to be nothing short of terrifying, and their night takes an unexpected turn.
Bruckner’s short was so effective that in 2016 it was adapted into a feature film titled Siren, directed by Gregg Bishop. While The Ritual is dramatically different in tone, it’s clear that Bruckner is a name to watch out for.
The image below incorporates Bruckner’s specific style – at least in respect to The Ritual. He specializes in tracking shots of ominous locations in the wilderness that may or may not be hiding something (look closely at the image below… there’s a monster in there).
There’s something about real-world locations in place of sets or studios that makes the horror so much more effective. As far as I can tell, the majority of The Ritual was shot on location in the Scandinavian wilderness.
If you remove the monster and the terror that comes from becoming lost, those woods are extremely creepy. This specific setting paired with an ominous score and the primeval and cosmic sound design of the titular monster creates a unique and crushing atmosphere.
What I found to be quite notable was the acting and story. It may sound generic, but the performances and dialogue felt so genuine that I wouldn’t be surprised if a vast majority of it was improved.
All of the characters are distinct and serve a necessary purpose. In the short on-screen time span there are specific character developments between the two primary characters, Luke and Dom. Both start out as pretty unlikable characters, but by the climax of the film they’re completely changed for the better due to their horrific experiences in the woods.
The entity described in the film is called a “Jötunn“, a bastard child of Loki, although the creature’s morphology is potentially more directly inspired by other Norse legends.
For instance, the creature’s unique and grotesque physiology sounds like the “Nuckelavee” which is a half-horse and half-human entity. In the image above, the creature clearly resembles a very large elk or moose, while the head appears to be made up of two fused human torsos. The “head” is submerged within the torso where only the eyes are visible.
The design is mesmerizing and haunting.
The Ritual can be streamed on Netflix, and I strongly recommend that anyone who loves horror and appreciates mythology should check it out.