Netflix’s Hidden Horror Gem: The Ritual | Mailee Phan
While browsing Netflix’s catalog for horror movies, I came across The Ritual, described only as a movie in which “four friends with a long-standing – but strained – connection take a hiking trip into the Swedish wilderness, from which they may never return”. Seeing as though it was only about an hour and a half long and expecting it to have a predictable plot, I put it on and relaxed. Before I knew it, I was on the edge of my seat, intrigued, disturbed, and nervous for what was to come next. To give a bit more context to the plot, the main character, Luke, and his friend group begin their hike into the Swedish forests to pay tribute in the heights of the mountains to their other friend, who died in a robbery, and whose death Luke blames himself for. As I want to maintain an air of mystery to the overarching plot, there will be no need to worry about spoilers throughout this review.
Although The Ritual appears to draw heavily from The Blair Witch Project in terms of some of the story building and genre, it takes a path that was completely unexpected to me, both creatively and narratively. A lot of the pagan elements that appear throughout seem to be derivative of past films, but were utilized in a manner that served to both frighten the audience and further the plot quickly and effectively. Unlike The Blair Witch Project, The Ritual does not begin subtle; the horror aspects appear suddenly, not in the form of jumpscares, but more as affronts to the characters and their ability to travel through the woods. Such a lack of jumpscares contributed well to the psychological horror of being trapped in the woods with an unknown force of nature, and created an insidious feeling of being hunted. I believe this idea of hunter/prey, although not a new one in film, was explored in a unique manner given the context, which created a necessary unease throughout the movie.
In the moments between terrors, I found the elements of characterization used were intriguing, and made me want to learn more about their backstory as a friend group, which is a driving force throughout the movie, and the cause for their predicament. Each of the four’s distinct personality traits created an important push/pull dynamic that contributed to the multiple types of tensions present. For me though, Luke steals the show as the main character, serving as the center point for the tensions within the friend group, both attempting to better the situation and actively worsening it.
The most compelling component that I found, however, were the visuals. The beauty of the wilderness throughout the movie never ceased to amaze me, and provided such a wonderfully stark contrast against the terrors that later progressed. Integration of flashbacks into greenery, with details like moss and mushrooms seeping into the cracks of supermarket tiles, had the artistic touch that acted as the ribbon that tied the rest of the elements together. The design of the horror elements are done fantastically as well, once again providing a necessary contrast against the static yet beautiful vastness of the forest. Plus, it was refreshing to watch a movie with scenes that aren’t shrouded in darkness, as a lot of recent films are.
Ultimately, The Ritual surprised me in more ways than I thought it would, and was an enjoyable experience with some well done twists and turns.