The woods are a creepy place where horror movie characters should never tread. This is a fact. We all know it. Yet, we still turn out to watch genre movie boneheads make the same mistakes over and over. David Bruckner’s The Ritual is the latest trip through the spooky woods tropes. The director’s debut mixes and matches from various horror influences to spin a yarn about grief and giant monsters. It’s an impressive show reel for a growing directorial talent and a damn fun 80 minutes, if not a particularly fresh take on an old tale.
Rafe Spall headlines a team of aged college buddies who head out for a hike through Sweden to morn the memory of an old friend. He was killed a year before in a liquor store robbery gone wrong. Spall was there and blames himself for not acting. He’s haunted by the memory. Soon he and his buddies are haunted by more a literal monster as well. It starts with an ill-advised shortcut from the mountains through the woods, gets worse with a night spent in a creepy cabin filled with mysterious religious symbols, and goes extra super-bad once they are chased by a monsters who bring out their inner demons through nightmares. Then things get a lil’ Lovecraftian. It’s a pretty wild ride.
Bruckner nimbly jumps between various styles of scares and horror. He mixes psychological distress and grief with harsh nature survival, monster mash shenanigans, and a touch of the surrealistic uncanny. It all plays well, executed with terse intensity and a horror fan’s knack for shifting subgenres on demand to buck audience expectations. Spall is brilliant as the damaged lead, giving the heightened genre outing enough humanity to sting.
Sure, it’s ultimately all just another trip through the creepy woods and the clichés therein, but when familiar horror beats are executed this well, it’s worth the repetition.