A quick, contemporary #MonthOfSpooks detour, looking at “The Ritual”, released in UK cinemas on Friday 13th. Based on the novel by Adam Nevill, the movie takes us into the woods for a chilling supernatural survival horror that would put even Bear Grylls off his grubs.

When a group of friends’ lad’s night out ends in tragedy as they inadvertently walk in on a  store robbery, Luke (Rafe Spall) manages to hide while his friend is murdered. Later, the friends decide to honour their mate by fulfilling his wish to go hiking in the Swedish mountains. It all goes well despite the group’s lack of outdoors experience until Dom (Sam Troughton) sprains his ankle, forcing the guys to abandon the mountain trail and take a shortcut directly through the forest. As the forest closes in around them, they begin to question the wisdom of their decision, especially after finding a freshly disembowelled animal corpse hanging from the trees. Lost and frightened, they stumble across an abandoned shack filled with bones and strange artefacts. Slowly, they realise they are definitely not alone in the woods and something intends they never leave.

There are definite shades of “The Blair Witch Project”, especially in the early stages of this creepy and atmospheric survival horror. Spall’s performance, morose and weighed down by survivor guilt, casts a wonderfully melancholy pall over the movie, despite the archetypical British banter and dry humour which becomes ever more brittle as the situation deteriorates. Where it differs from “The Blair Witch Project” is that it actually provide answers to the questions and mysteries it raises, and those answers are possibly more supernatural than you might be expecting.

Produced by Andy Serkis, “The Ritual” absolutely makes the most of its stunning location. Director David Brucker and cinematographer Andrew Shulkind capture and exploit the eldritch nature of the forest so perfectly, it becomes the most important character in the movie. Dark, ancient and claustrophobic, the camera movement through the trees as the sunlight filters through is like some kind of demonic barcode, stark and merciless. The production design, likewise, is superb and the runes and artefacts which increasingly litter the forest add a palpable foreboding to the already creepy ambience.

There’s such a richness of setting and mood that it’s a shame it’s such a brief film. Clocking in at 94 minutes, it’s a necessarily pacy affair and by the end feels a little rushed, leaving many of its best ideas unexplored and despite it fulfilling its own narrative promises, it all feels a little bit too superficial and quickly resolved at the end.

6/10 

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