Sometimes I forget why I’m doing this, watching obscure movies that I find at the bottom of the Netflix basement stuck to the floor. But the point of this exercise is to scratch the bottom of the Netflix barrel to see what nuggets I unearth. The vast majority of the movies I find have been total crap, but every once in a while I stumble upon a nasty little gem like The Ritual that makes the whole effort worthwhile.
The Ritual (2017)
While Netflix spent millions buying the rights to The Cloverfield Paradox, spending more millions on an ad during the Superbowl, and tricking tens of millions of people into watching that turd of a movie, they could’ve spent a couple bucks telling people about The Ritual, a legitimately good horror-thriller. This is the first Netflix original movie that I’ve liked.
It’s an old chestnut of a story well-executed. Stop me if you’ve heard this premise before: four British blokes get lost in the Swedish wilderness and are chased by a murderous something or other. Is it a witch? Is it a satanic cult? Is it inbred mutant hillbillies? Or is it something else? Let’s go with all of the above.
Unrecognizable but very talented character actor Rafe Spall is the leader of the self-proclaimed, “Four twats in a forest.” The movie quickly gets to it as five friends hang around a pub wondering what to do on their vacation. One guy wants to go hiking in Sweden. I can think of a lot of reasons to go to Sweden, but to backpack on rain-soaked hillsides would not be one of them. Well, their buddy who wanted to go to Sweden is killed during a liquor store robbery while Rafe is paralyzed with fear and doesn’t help his friend.
The four buds are wracked with guilt, and so cut to wandering around the Swedish wilderness to perform a funeral service for their buddy on a non-descript hillside. Seriously guys, you couldn’t do that in some park outside of Stockholm, or sprinkle his ashes on a fjord or something?
My main complaint with the movie is that all of these guys are pretty indistinguishable. Except the fat guy with glasses, I had trouble telling the scruffy guys in plain hiking clothes apart. What were their names? And which was the guy that bought it in the liquor store again? I had already forgotten what he looked like.
Well, before they can hit the Trondheim pubs, the fat guy in glasses sprains his ankle and ruins the vacation for everybody. This causes them to make the fateful decision to take a “short cut through the woods.” We all know how this is going to turn out, but it’s fun getting there.
Aside from the mostly indistinguishable characters, it’s all nicely acted. The four actors react believably to their worsening situation. The characters are kind of jerks, which is okay because some mysterious beast is lurking just out of camera shot. It’s the kind of beast that makes growling noises and shakes the tops of trees. You know, one of those.
So far so good.
The guys are also funny, and there’s some amusing banter. They find a burned out VW van and one quips, “strange place to park.”
Upon finding a locked cabin in a torrential downpour, I think the fat guy with glasses asks, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
Then they find some sort of gutted bear hanging from a tree -“How did that get there?” one asks. “It didn’t put itself there, that’s for sure,” retorts another. See, this beast is the kind of thing that hangs dead bears in trees just for its amusement. That is something you should not mess with.
So there’s some arcane symbols carved into the side of a cabin, but since it’s pouring rain, they decide to break in and their nightmare begins. They start to hear spooky sound effects in the woods.
Then one of them finds a mummified statue/corpse(?) in the attic: “That’s witchcraft.” So they start to have nightmares. Rafe sees a bright light in the woods. That’s creepy. But when he goes outside, he’s back in the liquor store and the thugs are murdering his buddy all over again. Whatever this creature is, it likes to psychologically torture its victims.
Rafe wakes up from the liquor store dream and he’s got a wicked bite mark on his boob, one of the guys wet himself, and another is found naked praying to the mummified thing in the attic. That is messed up, man.
The next day, Rafe goes wandering into the woods and he sees some monstrous thing behind some trees. But we don’t get a good look at it, yet. He goes running back to tell his buds and fat guy with glasses whines, “Let’s not get started with this.” See, they’re all freaked out by now and regretting their decision to take a shortcut, and they don’t want to deal with some sort of bear monster running around stalking them.
There’s a good bit as Phil the naked guy complains about how the fact that he was praying to a mummy thing is giving him nightmares and daymares and he can’t cope any more. See, a good horror movie deals with the idea that there’s some things worse than just being murdered. This weird creature is haunting them and he might not ever recover. And Rafe is suffering PTSD from the liquor store murder. So this excursion is bringing out their hidden fears and anxieties.
I was not familiar with director David Bruckner’s other films, but he’s made some experimental horror movies. He does a great job here, maximizing his low budget with good old fashioned movie standbys, great acting, sound effects, and creepy locations. I’ve seen a hundred “wandering in the woods” movies, but this one never gets dull. There is always some sort of evil presence harassing them from the shadows. Bruckner keeps the story from getting bogged down in infantile arguing. Every fateful decision these guys make seems reasonable enough, it’s just that the Swedish countryside is apparently a hellhole plagued with filthy cultists trying to kill you and hang your corpse from a tree. I’m definitely interested to see his other movies and what he’s doing next.
If you are looking for a nasty, scary horror movie you haven’t seen before, then The Ritual is available on Netflix right now and you should do yourself a favor. It’s atmospheric, tense, and thrilling, like a horror-thriller should be. Bruckner teases us with glimpses of the thing, but we do get a look at the beast later, so he plays fair. I will not spoil anything about it except to say it’s honked up, looks impressive, and if it’s from some jacked up Swedish folklore, I’ve never heard of something like that. Who doesn’t love a good, “Four Twats in the Forest” movie? The Ritual is worth checking out.