J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Ritual: The Horrors of Hiking

The Kungleden or “King’s Trail” is a picturesque but challenging hiking trail in northern Sweden. One character likens it to the Appalachia Trail, but with “more history and less hillbillies.” It turns out, they would probably be profoundly relieved to see a hillbilly on this lads’ outing. Something is stalking these four old college friends and it probably isn’t entirely human in David Bruckner’s The Ritual (trailer here), which premieres this Friday on Netflix.

Luke has not forgiven himself for drunkenly cowering in the back of a convenience store while junkie thugs bludgeoned his friend Robert to death. It is not at all clear whether Phil, Hutch, and Dom have forgiven him either, but he still accompanies them on the hike across the Kungleden Robert always wanted to make. It was supposed to be a tribute to their late friend, but it quickly turns into a serious struggle for survival.

First off, Dom twists or sprains something, which slows them down tremendously. Then Hutch convinces everyone to go off trail by cutting through the forest. Of course, any regular horror movie viewer knows this is a profoundly bad idea, but they do it anyway, despite Luke’s nagging misgivings. Soon they stumble across some Blair Witch-like rune markings—and things quickly go downhill from there.

To a large extent, The Ritual is exactly the film Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch sequel/reboot should have been. It is wickedly atmospheric and overwhelmingly creepy in those woods. Indeed, it is really scary watching the malevolent force toy with the four lads, especially because it is unclear for most of the film whether it is human, animal, or supernatural in nature. Eventually, it takes us somewhere pretty crazy, but because of Bruckner’s solid ground work, we continue to buy in.

Rafe Spall is terrific as the highly defensive and moderately self-loathing Luke. In fact, all four dudes are quite well-delineated, especially alpha dog Hutch, who really keeps us off-balance, thanks to Robert James-Collier, taking a radical departure from Thomas Barrow, the scheming footman in Downton Abbey. As a result, it is easy to believe these bickering and bantering fellows go way back together.

Ritual does not develop any new bump-in-the-night innovations, but it executes its genre elements at a very high level. It is also unusually well-acted for a lost-in-the-woods film. Enthusiastically recommended for horror fans, The Ritual starts streaming this Friday (2/9) on Netflix.

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