The Ritual (3 stars)

The Ritual

Rafe Spall heads up a somewhat successful woods-based horror from David Bruckner

If you go down to the woods with a horror movie, you want to be sure of getting some decent surprises. Adapted from a 2011 novel by British writer Adam Nevill, American director David Bruckner's shocker has the atmosphere, style and sturdy characterisation needed to tempt you along for the jaunt. But it doesn't have enough fresh scares or potent revelations to stick, much less soften the sense that we've been lost in trees like these before.

The prologue establishes the psychological stakes smartly, zeroing in on five male thirtysomethings just as a planning session for their next reunion holiday gets side-swiped by tragedy. New meaning is added to the phrase 'guilt trip' as the survivors end up taking a redemptive hiking holiday in Sweden, in honour of their lost comrade.

Rafe Spall, Sam Troughton, Arsher Ali and Robert James-Collier flesh out plausibly prickly character types, ensuring you buy their reactions to freaky finds in the forest after a proposed short cut leaves them lost. As if disembowelled elks, creepy cabins and pagan artefacts weren't weird enough, a night of bad dreams culminates in bed-wetting and worse: the realisation that something supernatural is afoot.

Long before one character runs slap-bang into a trunk, the environment is well milked for insinuating threat by DP Andrew Shulkind's claustrophobic images, while Ben Lovett's throbbing score artfully compounds the sense of dread. However, this control of style isn't enough to shake off The Blair Witch Project's shadow, especially during an intense tent-based episode, and the resolution serves to demonstrate how successfully the first Blair film channelled the chill of the unseen.

Though Bruckner attacks the frights with full-gore gusto, a climactic recourse to effects-heavy default options reminds us that, in scary movies, short cuts are rarely the smart choice.

General release from Fri 13 Oct.

The Ritual

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • UK
  • 1h 34min
  • 15
  • Directed by: David Bruckner
  • Cast: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali
  • UK release: 13 October 2017

A group of male thirtysomethings go for a hiking holiday in Sweden in memory of a dead friend, but there’s a Malign Presence in the woods. There’s plenty of atmosphere, style and sturdy characterisation but not enough fresh scares or potent revelations, and we’ve been lost in trees like these too often before.