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The Ritual
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The Ritual (2017)

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Plot Summary:
"A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that's stalking them."

Review by
Nina Romain
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Review Date: 01 November 2017 My Rating: out of 5


Rafe Spall makes a fairly rare excursion into horror, playing is one of five London friends on a night out planning their lads’ trip overseas while bemoaning approaching middle age. They decide to go on a hiking trip in Sweden rather than a boozy trip to Amsterdam, and on the way home Luke (Spall) and Rob (Paul Reid) call into an off licence for a celebratory bottle, but they’ve interrupted a break in. Rob is murdered, Luke ducks behind a food aisle and survives.

Six months later, the quartet are on the trip in Rob’s memory, but Luke is struggling with the guilt he feels in not saving his friend. Tramping gloomily through the Swedish woods, making all the townie mistakes of not breaking in uncomfortable new hiking boots, they start to notice the obligatory Blair Witch-esque creepy carvings appearing in the sodden forest around them.

Produced by the over-talented Andy Serkis and directed by David Bruckner, who directed the creepier V/H/S, the pace suffers from endless closeups of deserted woods with nonstop instrumental music. The initial effect is of feeling you’ve downloaded and decided to listen to a very long sample of “creepy forest background music”.

The rain forces them to stay in an abandoned hut overnight, but to their horror they find a headless straw figure. From there on, it’s one Wrong Turn after another into Deliverance territory, as they find dead animals still bleeding hanging up in the trees, and creepy noises scaring the city slickers as they try to run for help. In one of the genuinely more disturbing moments, they find up an abandoned tent containing a rotting wallet stuffed with happy family snaps and a credit card…. which expired in the 80s.

Luke has nightmare flashbacks about Adam’s death, and seems to find himself repeatedly back in the shop. Now completely lost and injured, the group fragments into arguments over whose fault this is, and start blaming him for Rob's death (which seems a little unreasonable given there were two armed attackers in the shop).

When the two remaining team members are finally captured by a crazed forest cult looking for two sacrificial victims, the film oddly becomes less chilling when the danger is explicit. Although likeable, Luke never seems to develop from the hapless city slicker, and the flashbacks to the shop murder don’t really develop the film.

The final confrontation is a slightly heavy-handed metaphor for facing up to fears and guilt about Rob's death, with an anti-climatic ending that makes you feel the budget suddenly ran out.

The viewer is left wondering how much of this hiking trip actually happened and how much is Luke's guilt and regret playing tricks on his mind. If someone returns from a hiking trip saying three of his friends are dead, whether or not their bodies are found, what are the chances he's allowed to return to London and how do they explain everything there?

The others give sturdy if unremarkable support as the college pals trying to recapture their lost youth in one last adventurous hiking trip, especially the no-nonsense leader Phil (Arsher Ali), with some entertaining oneliners. But the overall impression is a drama set in a forest, and although enjoyable, you may find yourself - like the heroes - wishing they’d all gone to Amsterdam instead.

A Wrong Turn into Deliverance territory

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