Adam Nevill is a writer I’ve been following for some time now. He is the author of a number of excellent horror novels, but my favorite among them is The Ritual. It’s a story about four British friends who decide to go on a hiking trip in the forests of northern Sweden and encounter some seriously evil stuff in the deep, dark woods. Recently Netflix released a movie version starring Rafe Spall, so I sat down to check it out.
All in all it was better than I thought it would be. The acting was good, they stuck to the book fairly closely, the locations were suitably foreboding, and the mythological creature that stalks them throughout was visually interesting as well (at least while they kept it obscured—more on that in a bit). In addition, the sets and visual effects were very well done, with everything being created on location according to the director.
Since they spend most of their time lost in the woods, the film was shot in real woods—with the forests of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania standing in for northern Sweden. This lends the proceedings a chilling air of authenticity. These woods are dark, old, and deeply isolating as the characters struggle to escape them after taking a shortcut when one of their number becomes injured. Soon they are hopelessly lost as they begin to find dead animals hanging up in the tree tops and strange runes carved into the trunks.
The highlight for me was when they take shelter in a creepy old cabin they find during a storm. Inside they find strange effigies and evidence that the people who once lived there were into some pretty freaky occult stuff. They all have terrible nightmares that night and when morning finally comes they get out of there as fast as they can. As their numbers dwindle and desperation sets in for the remaining characters, they eventually find a weird commune of people who offer human sacrifices to the mythological creature that roams the forest in exchange for long life.
Here is where we see the creature clearly for the first time and it’s at this point that the movie loses its way a bit. Though the monster doesn’t look like anything you’ve seen before, when you see it up close it kind of looks ridiculous. Watch and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a minor stumble in an otherwise good horror movie but it reminds me of the old adage: the unknown is always more frightening than the known.
Overall, if you’re a fan of horror movies and you have Netflix, I would recommend that you check out The Ritual. It’s brooding atmosphere and authentic locations more than make up for the less-than-terrifying monster at the end.