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Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Ritual (2017) Horror Myth

The Ritual (2017) - THIS IS QUITE SPOILERY SO DON"T BOTHER UNTIL YOU SEE THIS FINE FILM! This film had a fair amount of Twitter hype, people I follow at least, seem to rate it highly so I must be following the right people. Director David Bruckner has done some notable things in the horror genre, The Signal (2007), V/H/S/ (2012) and Southbound (2015) as well as being the writer of Siren (2016). The films easy availability on Netflix made it was a no-brainer that it would be my first film of the year, in what has been this very neglected blog.
 At its heart it is a very male story about masculinity and the struggle with fear in dangerous situations. It's about how men have to confront those fears and the costs to our ego and relationship when we do or don't. Centered in the relationships of four men we get a good dose of how men interact when there is an incident that changes their lives. On a smaller scale we journey with Luke (Rafe Spall) as he confronts the guilt of not being brave when he possibly needed to be.
  The setup is quick but a real powerhouse scene, the writer (Joe Barton) get's it right out there in the first few pages. That is how you get a script read have an early banging scene. Five friends are talking about a hiking trip to Sweden for their annual men's trip. Before that can happen one of the mates Robert (Paul Reid) dies in a tragic way leaving the other four to carry through with the hike in memorial. It is the kind of setup to give just enough character information to get us into the lives of these men. Also very clever making the scene Luke's dream which allows the viewer to join the hike in progress with enough development to get into the main story.
  None of the men are experienced hikers and so when something goes wrong the decision making goes a bit skewed towards poor. Being someone who has hiked for over thirty years and has lead dozens of groups of backpackers I can tell you I totally anticipated the bad decision making. I was resolved to the fact it was going to happen to drive the plot along. Bad Hiking Decision #1: Dom (Sam Troughton) twists a knee, okay, if he can not walk on it you give food and water to last the number of days it will takes to get help. Then two hike out on the known route, leaving one guy behind to keep the hurt companion company. If the guy can walk some he can continue forward with his companion while the other two travel the established route at a faster pace to get help.What you don't do is go off trail into a forest thinking you are going to save time and get help sooner. What do you think happens in this film? Sure enough they whip out a compass and attempt to more all four people through the forest. That is really the setup then as in all horror films, things go horribly wrong.
 The music changes we get shots of the forest dark and deep and the hikers wishing the trip was over as they make there way through the woods. A bear strung up and gutted in the forest is the first sign that these guys are not alone and that there are things more dangerous afoot. Bad Hiking Decision #2: As the light fades they trudge on making another horrible mistake traveling through the night. Not that you can't navigate in the dark with a compass and map but beginners should really tent up for the night. Finding a cabin in the woods all boarded up and they break in. In exploring the house Hutch (Robert James-Collier) find what looks like an effigy of a straw man with antler hands and hooves. That is ominous to say the least. Luke hears sounds in the forest or is this just his guilt talking to him? Now he could be psychologically damaged from the incident that lead to Roberts death, when he hid behind store shelves instead of taking some kind of action. Director Bruckner does a nice job with the repeated dream sequences where Luke ends up back in the store. They happen through out the film and the way the current forest blends in to the store more and more as the plot progresses was nicely done. They discuss the possible origins of the figure and what other strange beliefs the Swedes might have. Bad Hiking Decision 3: The hiking decision that put them in this situation is questioned, leaving the trail that is. It still possible for the group to start backtracking to the original path but this idea discarded for heading on a course that can not be predicted. The people pushing this ill fated course of action rationalize now how it was the best choice. It is so necessary for the plot but so damn frustrating for me.
  A night in a creepy cabin means that we have another dream for Luke. When he wakes to a light outside the cabin, its blinding but no one else wakes, he opens the door to be back in the liqueur store. As we see he has not worked through those feelings we know at least it is a dream. He wakes to find himself in daylight outside the cabin with cuts on his chest in a circular pattern. Did something run away as he woke. Hutch is screaming with a nightmare inside the cabin. He pissed himself it was so scary. Dom also having a nightmare and Luke wakes him.  Upstairs Phil (Arsher Ali) is by the effigy asleep and praying to it, really out of sorts. This is tight tense and really brings the dread of the story to a whole new level. All four men are really shaken, and when they step outside ready to leave, they see runes carved in the trees around the house and the smart choice at this point would be top go back the way they came and get on the original trail. Bad Hiking Decision 4: This is squashed by the frustrated Dom who sees the path that leads to the cabin and insists they follow it since it must come from somewhere where there are people. Let's just follow some random path that does not even go in the correct direction? Really? Already they should have arrived the village they saw from the original path but because of weather they can blame it for not reaching it yet.
  They begin rationalizes the experience in the cabin as they walked, but you know Hutch really doesn't want to talk about since he pissed himself. Dom says his knee hurts too bad and then sort of quits on them. They are traveling the wrong direction for hours because of his rage decision and now he has had enough. Luke heads up the ridge hoping to see something but is frustrated by the density of the forest. He hears something up there and maybe we see a real like version of the effigy and of course when he gets back to his mates they did not hear or see anything. So some are skeptical of his story. He shows them his circular pattern cuts on his chest and then Don cuts him down as not trustworthy while still railing against their situation. Some of the feelings about his past cowardliness now comes out between them. Rob would be dead if he had stood up, thrown a bottle or something. These feeling pent up and  now the group is falling apart. Hutch can't really back up Luke he prefers they don't confront it. The script here could have given us a bit more earlier on to define the Hutch and Phil characters a bit more distinctly. Maybe it is just that Phil is not particularly well drawn?
  We get some possible dubious history about hiking through these woods. They find a tent with belongings from a family, the credit card in the wallet is from from 1984 as seen on the. Rationalization for Bad Hiking Decision 4: We registered with the lodge. They are going to see that we did not turn up and a rescue party will be sent. Well all well and good but you left not only thee original path but change direction part way from your shortcut and now are wandering a path from the cabin and finding the remains of families that disappeared her decades before.This is the half way point in the film. Hutch, spooked enough decides to give Luke the compass in the morning and send him southwest (the original shortcut route) The night is dark and filled with terrors. Luke awake in his tent hears sounds of heavy breathing and snapping branches and then unzipping and looking out he see the liqueur stop seen that breaks into the creature in the woods. The shift really happens here where it goes from maybe Luke is imagining to being a full blown crisis. Luke wakes from his dream and finds Phil screaming about shadows, Hutch's tent is ripped open and the small amount of blood is all that is left of their friend. All had dreams again and not the three remaining men hear Hutch yell from the midnight dark forest. Bad Hiking Decision 5: They hear the sounds of the creature but go after him anyway. They are worried about getting lost in the dark but it is a crisis and often that leads to impulsive decision making. When morning breaks they have not found the tents or Hutch. Don't wander off into the woods at night.
 They find Hutch in a tree like the bear with his guts ripped open. Luke keeps himself in together enough to get the compass and knife from the body. But these guys are screwed no gear and no shelter. Phil is loosing his mind a bit and they are now all accepting that they are in deep shit. Footprints in the sand by a stream and now there are people to contend with. They choose to go a different way up the hill which is much harder for Don. There is this great visual of the creature moving in the background without them seeing it. Really nicely done. Phil can't get the thought of the thing from his head. It is dire straights and the worse is yet to come. When the creature takes Phil and then there were two. The story is written so much from Luke's point of view you know he will be the last man standing. Dom though got some decent development so you have hope he will also make it.
  Dom and Luke are left and as they flee the creature they come to light from a village. Pursued they rush to a cabin and are met with villagers that knock them unconscious. Dom is sacrificed to the god and since Luke is the on with the circular cut marks on his chest he is not. Luke is left the sole survivor still a captive of the village folk. When one comes to feed him, the one who speaks English explains that they worship it. It is a God born from Loki and wishes all to bow to it. It keeps them in the forest but there is no more pain and no more death, eternal life in return for sacrifices. Your Ritual begins tonight you will kneel before the god she says. So he will be the one to join the group? He is left with this and he attempts his escape, to be brave, overcome his fear. The upstairs room is a roomful of old dried corpses, that are animated enough to make the raspy screaming sounds he has been hearing. He burns the room and goes for the guns he saw then all hell breaks loose.
The villagers kneel to the god but Luke has upset the order of things. Shit gets real as he makes his way out, sees the God and gets scared and runs. He pisses it off by shooting it and flees to the woods. One last delusion of the liqueur store. It knocks him over. He is grabbed by it and then it drops him into a bowed position. When he tries to rise it pushes him back down. He tries again defying the God and slashing it with an ax. He makes another run for it. Into a field outside the woods. It stops at the boundary and he screams at it roaring like it roared at him.The sun comes up as he walks back up a field seeing a road off in the distance.
  I really enjoyed this film even with the absolutely horrible backpacking decisions these characters made. (Have to drive plot I suppose.) Some of the characterization could have been deeper but they all served a purpose. I thought Hutch and Phil sort of were a bit underdeveloped could have been interchangable, while Dom was one toned. In the end it all works since it is Luke's story. I am not sure Luke ever really got brave but I think he made some progress. Now of course there are no more friends left to look down on him for being a coward. I suppose he will think he got past it but three more finds losses to deal with. I don't know if he will make it. His back was truly against the wall in the village. Let's pretend for a second that all four friends are in the village. If Luke got a chance to cut and run do you think he would?  I lean maybe. The film was honest though about how men treat loss and feeling they may have about it towards others. On the Monster movie side I think Bruckner pull it off really well. I enjoyed the early teasing of the monster and I think the design really worked when it was finally shown in full. It is not easy to do this and I think it was done well here. Check this one out on Netflix right now.

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