Netflix adds another cult-worthy success to its shelf of game-changing horror films, reminding mainstream filmmakers and film fans that memorable horrible films can be created. “The Ritual” stands out among the many Netflix Originals — and hundreds of cash-grabs pouring out of Hollywood — as an unsettling-turned-terrifying delight. The film’s rising crescendo of paralyzing moments befalling the dedicated cast, captured in an evocative Scandinavian environment elevated “The Ritual’s” haunt-factor and fulfilling its deliverance of a tale as promising as “The Babadook.”
Based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Adam Nevill, “The Ritual” follows four college friends who reunite six months after the tragic death of their friend as they set out to hike through Sweden’s untouched wilderness in honor of his memory. When the decision to take a shortcut leads them into a mysterious forest of Norse legend, the group trip becomes increasingly horrifying as there is an ancient evil stalking them at every turn.
Group of friends, creepy forest and a supernatural entity —“The Ritual” is what “The Blair Witch Project” could have been. Despite the “Blair Witch” vibes, the film’s ability to make the audience give a hoot about the characters as they are picked off one eye-covering scene at a time and its absence of “found footage” — going for the smooth, at-times, “I’m watching you” cinematography many will remember from Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” — “The Ritual” is familiar enough to gain interest in, and yet, entertainingly nightmarish enough for horror fans to bookmark it for another watch. Cinematographer Andrew Shulkind deserves props for visually crafting a film most memorable for its stills and following zoom ins.
Composed by Ben Lovett (“The Signal,” “Black Rock,” “Synchronicity”), the promisingly ominous musical score sets the bar as one of the best in a while, mirroring the sixth sense of the characters’ attempt to escape the lurking menace in the woods. Every symphonized crack of tree branches to the long-lasting, tension-building tones, the sounds push the more hair-raising and blood-curdling moments into every viewer’s bedroom. After watching “The Ritual,” the music alone will have you periodically checking your room for intruders.
The cinematography and music elevated the spook-factor. From traumatizing screams and emotional breakdowns to heavy silences and authentic conversations, Rafe Spall (Luke), Arsher Ali (Phil), Robert James-Collier (Hutch), and Sam Troughton (Dom) performed with an outstanding level of believability that you forget midway that they are actors. Despite the fact that only a scenic footnote of background was given in the beginning to explain the characters’ situation, the drop-in style of storytelling made the film and its characters even more deserving of sincerity, considering the suddenness of tragic events that befall them. Luke stands out as the most interesting of the four, and Spall completely sells it as a man eating himself out of guilt, yet at the same time, seeking redemption for his past mistakes.
“The Ritual” is a definite match made for horror fans hungry for films less predictable and more terror-stricken. Although it does carry similar traits from classics like “Blair Witch,” its haunting style, believable characters and unpredictable moments will leave viewers imagining monsters for days, all the while placing “The Ritual” in a special place in horror fans’ hearts. Grab your popcorn and your blanket, and stream “The Ritual” on Netflix.