Director: David Bruckner
Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton
Watch The Ritual online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
A film’s marketing tagline can do a lot to answer the question of whether you want to see the finished product. These tend to fall into two camps – descriptive or jokey – but The Ritual is rather unique in that the tagline “They Should Have Gone To Vegas”, later changed to replace Vegas with Ibiza after the terrible mass shooting, painted The Ritual as a somewhat lighter entity than the rest of the trailer made out. David Bruckner’s film is a grim, unsettling and effective piece of work which really needed a different advertising approach.
Based on the novel of the same name by Adam Nevill, it feels like its going for something deeper than your usual mainstream horror. The film’s tone from the titles onwards is mournful, full of an unexpressed anger that bubbles under the surface for the first act. It follows four friends dealing with the death of one of their own, arguably caused by the inaction of someone in their party. While a threat stalks them early on, it takes a while before stranger things start happening, with Bruckner wisely letting the film spend time with the group, further adding to the tension once things start getting spooky.
Thankfully, the film doesn’t drop the ball when it comes to that material, either. The threat terrorising the group is revealed relatively late in the game – like the best horrors, it is an unknowable mixture of different designs that makes something striking and really rather unique. If anything, more of it would have been nice with Bruckner’s vision sometimes straining at the leash of his budget.
The build in the first two acts is perhaps more effective than the climax, but it helps to have Rafe Spall involved in proceedings, as his hurt and guilt crescendo into something primal by the end, a cathartic journey that pays off what he goes through up to that point. The group as a whole work for the most part, although they somewhat fall into tropes; Robert James-Collier’s leader, Sam Troughton’s whiney one and Arsher Ali’s “the other one” don’t ever really come out of their box, but they convince as old friends and play the confusion of the situation very well in the early stages.
Not going into The Ritual expecting a comedy-horror would be a wise move, as this is a serious, grisly number with moments that will stick in the memory. More than worth your time.
The Ritual is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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