The Ritual: A Male Bonding Horror Flick That Falls Short on Character Development.
The atmospheric and moody horror flick "The Ritual" is a tale about a group of alpha-male college buddies who go on a hike in the Swedish wilderness as a tribute to their friend who died in a liquor store robbery. The hike, however, takes a sinister turn, and the group finds themselves battling against an evil force that lurks in the woods. While director David Bruckner conjures a chilling atmosphere throughout the film, screenwriter Joe Barton's adaptation of Adam Nevill's source novel falls short on character development, leaving the audience with a tedious hang-out session starring a group of stereotypical tough guys who sometimes die horrible deaths.
The story follows grief-stricken bro Luke (Rafe Spall) as he embarks on a journey to pay tribute to his best friend Rob (Paul Reid), who was killed in a liquor store robbery. As the hike progresses, the group encounters a series of obstacles that push them to their limits. However, none of the characters want to think or feel anything beyond a certain point, making it challenging for the audience to care about the testosterone-fueled heroes.
Luke's involvement in Rob's death is the only taboo subject on all of their minds, and none of the characters want to confront it. As a result, they make obnoxiously contrived decisions that are constantly rationalized through pouty, all-caps dialogue. The emotionally constipated characters justify taking shortcuts through the dense woods, breaking up furniture for firewood, and even ignoring mysterious man-made trails, all the while cursing manfully.
Dom (Sam Troughton) is the only character with a modest emotional range and is therefore the least bro-y of Luke's friends. He has a wife, knows his body well enough to be familiar with its regular stress points, and has glasses. He's sensitive, and in this movie, that's a bad thing. He is portrayed as whiny and annoying, and is the only friend who explicitly blames Luke for Rob's death. When confronted by a supernatural life-or-death situation, Dom behaves selflessly and tells Luke that saving himself is the right thing to do when faced with an impossible fight-or-flight response. This one humanizing moment is meager given how insufferable Dom is throughout the rest of the film.
The needlessly drawn-out macho conclusion of the movie drives home an especially obnoxious trope: men who bully, fight, and punch their way past their feelings are somehow more fit to survive than anyone who thinks or feels their way into a problem. "The Ritual" is a lousy movie where the protagonist tries to not feel guilty, encounters his sublimated emotions in the form of a strange woodland happening, and then must fight his way past those knotty emotions.
While the script's inadequacies may be significant, the film is well-directed, and Bruckner does a fine job with the film's scare scenes. The use of rustling leaves, flashlight lens flares, and a giant monster that actually looks creepy adds to the film's chilling atmosphere. However, the grating dialogue, thin characterizations, and disappointing character development make "The Ritual" the most disappointing kind of bad horror movie: the kind that's too smart to be this dumb.
In conclusion, "The Ritual" is a male bonding horror flick that falls short on character development. While the film's atmosphere and scare scenes are well-executed, the script's inadequacies, particularly the lack of character development, make it a tedious watch. The characters' emotional constipation, obnoxiously contrived decisions, and insufferable dialogue make it difficult for the audience to care about the protagonists, resulting in a disappointing viewing experience.