The Ritual may have been released last year but its arrival on Netflix has so far made it the best monster movie of 2018. Substantially less hyped than The Cloverfield Paradox -an abysmal disappointment even for a Cloverfield piece- the movie has already managed to generate more buzz and critical acclaim than the J.J. Abrams faux sci-fi horror thriller with characters, story, and cinematography that are absolutely haunting. More importantly, The Ritual has done this with few to no gimmicks or viral marketing stunts attached to its name, making it a film that has earned these early accolades on its own merits rather than being a manufactured success generated in a board meeting by a bunch of overpaid ad execs. Fans and critics alike are raving about The Ritual and here’s why. The Story The Ritual opens up to your standard horror movie faire. A group of friends are getting ready for a camping trip deep in the woodlands of Sweden when the mastermind behind their hike is brutally murdered in a convenience store robbery. Carrying the trauma of his loss with them, the four remaining pals embark on their trip to pay tribute to his memory. What could easily have shaped up into a heartfelt drama of bonding and friendship, or a quasi-comedy about getting lost in the woods descends into madness as the quartet takes shelter in an abandoned cabin in the woods. Because nothing bad ever happens in a cabin in the woods. Right? The story quickly descends into madness, hallucinogenic carnage, witchcraft, and evil gods hunting men through the forest in a combination of isolationist horror and classic monster/slasher survival. The amazing thing about The Ritual, when it comes to the story, is that it’s written in a way that the film could have been shot as anything. If the writer and director had wanted a buddy comedy, they could have navigated the trip through the woods into some farcical bonding tale between friends. The elements of drama were all there, too, and it could easily have been an emotional story about reconnecting or a survival tale about making it out of the wilderness alive. But they went with horror and I can’t thank them enough for that. This is, hands down, one of the most fun monster movies I’ve seen so far this year. And it’s already been quite a year. The Design The cinematography and graphic design are absolutely gorgeous. The location itself is a stunning, ancient forest in the semi-frozen depths of Europe and the fog rising up over the trees in the burning orange glow of sunrise reminds me of the Smoky Mountains here in Tennessee. The haze rolls up over the towering green spires and off into the dusky sky. The woods call to most of us on a primal level. We see something both familiar and alien all at once that draws us into the dark bowers and long forgotten moss-covered grounds. The Ritual plays on this hereditary memory by adding more familiar, modern, and cryptic signs and omens along the way. From dangling runes hung from branches and carved into the trunks of trees the dilapidated cabins with wicker woven effigies standing as altars, there is no doubt something ominous is looming just out of sight. Then come the hallucinations, the imagery psychically pushed into our protagonists’ minds by the creature. Most notably, the use of the convenience store where the robbery and murder took place. Fluorescent light shines from above, suspended on darkness between the trees as shelves of useless wares grow from the pine needle carpeted ground. Walls rise and vanish into the bucolic nothingness as we walk through a dream sequence both mundane and horrifying played out in real time for our characters as they struggle to survive with their sanity intact. The Beast There are spoilers here, so you may just want to cut to the last paragraph if knowing what the monster looks like is going to ruin this for you. The beast stalking the woods is described by a member of the sequestered, deranged cult found near the end of the film as the bastard child of the Norse trickster god Loki. A giant, hellish elk whose head is the torso of a man, arms hanging down from the bottom like tusks before a recessed head where only two glowing eyes are visible through a shroud of darkness. Massive, pointed antlers rise up, adding to the towering height of the nightmarish beast as it rapes the sanity of its victims before hanging their corpses from the trees and eviscerating them. This is another place where the imagery is absolutely insanely beautiful. To begin with, in a classic show of suspense, the monster is seen only in flashes, if at all, throughout two-thirds of the film. A blur of motion here. A hint of something over there. Only as we enter the end of the final act does the creature trot out from the forest and into the village where it is presented a blood offering. In one particularly mesmerizing and glorious scene, a common house burns in a raging fire as the beast nonchalantly walks alongside the carnage, silhouetted against the flame in all its horrific size and beauty. The Ritual blends so much of the mystic and the familiar with elements of the gruesome and emotionally traumatic that it’s hard to call it anything but a horror masterpiece. Beautiful, well-written, and expertly executed, I feel as if watching it again would allow me to still enjoy the suspense and thrill of the plot while better examining the imagery and design put into the environment. If you haven’t watched this Euro-monster flick yet, you’re missing out. The Ritual is streaming now on Netflix. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.