Welcome to a scarier corner of Couch Soup, where we talk about all things horror. This is Stream Screams, where we talk about scary movies you can watch wherever you stream. To kick start this series, we will be talking about something of a hidden gem. This is the Scandinavian set British horror film, The Ritual.
The Ritual didn’t light up the world during its limited theatrical run in 2017, grossing around 1.6 million dollars, but it really shined after its international distribution rights were purchased by Netflix. It succeeds in being an up close and personal horror experience and is perhaps one of those films that works better on a smaller screen. Its themes and scare factor feel much closer to home, and the sound design is so impeccably done that it will feel like something is creeping up on you down the hall. Turn the lights out, the volume up, and strap in because this is a terrifying hike.
The Ritual tells the story of four friends who make a trip up the Kungsleden, a hiking trail in the northern Swedish mountains. They do this in honor of their recently deceased friend, Rob, who wanted them to make the journey. They are then pursued by an ancient evil that psychologically tortures the group and preys on their insecurities and existing friction between the friends. The build-up and suspense of the looming evil are excellently executed while still telling a poignant and emotionally powerful story of grief, trauma, and resilience.
Perhaps the strongest part of this film is the inner turmoil of its lead character. Luke, who was present during the death of Rob, battles against the guilt he feels for not trying to prevent his friend’s death. Portrayed by Rafe Spall, he does an incredible job of balancing the survivor guilt and terror of the evil that pursues the group. In a departure from his normal roles of a more comedic nature, Spall displays an incredible amount of acting range.
Director David Bruckner, who also directed other cult-favorite horror films such as Southbound and V/H/S, does an incredible job with The Ritual. The film sincerely feels like he poured his heart and soul into this work and has a personal resonance that many horror films aim to achieve but fail. Bruckner’s storytelling techniques are brilliantly contextual while hiding its biggest secrets behind cleverly placed smoke and mirrors. For example, a terrific collection of scenes are littered throughout the film where Luke is haunted by the death of Rob by witnessing a convenience store bleeding into the woods through hallucinations to compound his guilt, keeping his psyche at the breaking point.
Narratively, the story loses direction at a few points, but these can only really be called slight hiccups along a much stronger overall story. Each character feels unique but they seem to bring out a little of everything you’d expect from a hiking trail gone wrong type of movie. The gang loses cell reception, one of them suffers a knee injury, and they decide to cut through the forest avoiding the marked trail for a “faster” route home, it’s all a bit cliche. However, once the evil entity starts playing its maniacal games, the film really comes alive with some of the cooler and more beautifully shot psychological horror set pieces I have ever seen. The Ritual keeps the horror flowing without ever showing too much until right when it has you in its clawing clutches.
The Ritual is a terrific case study of how it takes a village to make a movie. Everything from the production design to the editing seems well executed and competently delivered. The sound design specifically makes this film sound as scary as it looks. Little twig snapping sound bites and the eerie ambiance of the Swedish woods will have you constantly thinking that something sinister is close by. It’s fairly common to see a film where certain departments stand out, and others make a few missteps, but The Ritual was definitely a film that was made for a love of filmmaking.
Well-acted, superbly produced, and oh-so genuinely terrifying, The Ritual is a must-see for horror fans and will scratch the itches of those looking for more psychological thrills. Available on Netflix, I suggest you add it to your list right now. It gets an 8.5 out of 10 from us.
Have you seen The Ritual yet? What did you think of it? And what other horror movies should we review next? Sound off below and on our social pages.
Scare you soon!!