Review: Netflix’s The Ritual

I’m conflicted about this one.

The Ritual starts out beautifully.  We have a group of friends out hiking through Swedish woods, with definite The Blair Witch Project vibes galore.  They’re being stalked by something–and it’s not just the creature haunting their trail.  All four of the friends are working through grief and blame for a killed fifth member of the group, who’d died in a convenience store robbery and thus prompted the trip.

[Spoilers ahead.  You’ve been warned.]

The first half of the film really had me going.  The woods are a wonderfully mysterious place, and that mysteriousness can turn into fear, oh so fast.  The four friends find this out quickly enough.  Throughout the first half, the woods takes on a persona of it’s own.  It’s dark, eerily oppressive, and serves as the perfect catalyst for their dark feelings to find voice.

I love it when places have personality, where they become characters in themselves.  The setting should absolutely impact the character’s actions.  It’s why the setting is so important.  You wouldn’t expect to have a horror movie set in the beautifully lit streets of Paris, as violinists serenaded couples and the smell of freshly baked pastries wafted through the air, would you?  The setting needs to have character–and The Ritual doesn’t disappoint.

But it definitely has The Blair Witch Project written all over it.  No shaky camera, thank goodness, but the lost in the woods, psychological anguish, and fraying party relationships all mirror the iconic horror movie.

Then we reach a point where it’s almost like the writers realized they were writing the same plot as The Blair Witch Project and decided they needed to veer off.  Hard.

Next we’ve got Jotunn monsters, occult worshipers, and a creepy old woman chewing on Juicy Fruit.

Ok, no, I’m not sure she was chewing on Juicy Fruit.  But the stock character of “Creepy Old Matriarch” certainly had something in her mouth, judging from the aggressive chewing she did while on camera.  Which, if I’m being honest, kinda detracted from the scary atmosphere they were going for.

Another detracting factor was the creature itself.  I have a love/hate relationship with the fact they showed the monster.  On the one hand, not showing the monster has become something of a trope.  And I appreciated that The Ritual tried to get away from that.  But there’s a reason why not showing a monster is popular: because my mind can come up with scarier ideas than any showed on screen.  When a creature is half-formed in your mind, pulling on your own personal nightmares, just an idea of all that’s dark and dangerous out there…that’s when it’s terrifying.  Because it’s personal.  Because we, as viewers, impose our own fears onto what we can’t see.  There’s a reason why the unknown is so terrifying–because we supply it with all the ammunition it could ever need to scare us half-way to death.

So I love that they tried to supplant this trope.  I also hated that what they came up with didn’t do justice to the monster in my mind.

To me, the movie devolved after the big reveal and the inclusion of the humans.  I felt like, at that point, our fears were being pulled in two different directions.  At first, we were supposed to fear the ancient thing in the woods.  And then when our group gets captured, we’re suddenly supposed to be afraid of what humans are capable of.  It felt like the Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame question: who is the monster and who is the man?  Only, here, everything is monstrous.

I enjoyed the movie.  The setting certainly had me spooked at the beginning.  But the wonderfully eerie setting felt thwarted by the monster and the humans living within it.  The impact of the woods felt lessened as the movie continued and my fears were being directed down different veins.  All in all, it was a good movie.  One definitely worth checking out.  Just keep in mind: the first half is going to scare you a lot more than the second.

 

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