Movie Review: I Still Hate the Woods Thanks “The Ritual”

Netflix recently debuted its most recent horror tale, The Ritual, starring Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton as four Uni friends trying to hold on to their straining relationship as they enter their mid-30s. The director, David Bruckner, has said that this movie is about “masculinity in crisis“, and it’s true; these men are all dealing with the realities of adulthood (or working to avoid them) as the exposition makes clear.  This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart as I have written about it on Signal Horizon before.  There are spoilers down below so be warned.

Within the first several minutes of the film, Luke (Spall) witnesses the horrific murder of the fifth friend in their group, Robert. Luke is frozen by fear, merely witnessing the crime instead of intervening. Robert’s death hangs over the other four as they take the trip he suggested, hiking through Sweden’s “King’s Trail.” There is clearly tension between the characters about Luke’s inaction, which eats at the relationships and trust between them as circumstances quickly get out of the men’s control. 

A twisted knee (the type of injury that aging makes more common, shall we point out) forces the group to consider their options – split up, go on along the trail, or try a shortcut through the woods. Reluctantly, they decide to enter the woods. Bad choice, as you might have guessed. This is where the film turns into a terrifying fairy tale, and a story about losing your friends as the result of things out of your control. While most of us have to deal with jobs, spouses, and general tiredness getting in the way of our friendships, they have some huge and predatory creature stalking them through the woods, but you know, to each their own. 

This film does a couple of things phenomenally – first, the cinematography is really stunning. The sweeping shots of the landscape, the forest, the mountains, all make the film beautiful to watch. The filmmakers also use this to their advantage: the

 stillness and silence of the forest are impeccably dreadful. Slow, zooming shots of the maze of trees are disorienting and oppressive as you wait for a sound, a movement, anything to break the tension. Luke’s nightmare sequences and his interaction with the monster as he makes his final bid for freedom combine the lush terror of the forest with the spare lighting and booze filled shelves of the convenience store in which Robert was murdered. It’s almost magical realism, and it helps to create the confusion between dreams and reality as the men spiral into desperation.

The acting is also superb for the most part. Watching the men break down during and after their nightmares, and the reactions of the others as each are taken is gut wrenching. Phil’s humiliation after waking up on the first night, Hutch’s embarrassment, and Dom’s complete unwillingness to share his thoughts ramp up the tension between the characters intensely. The final scene is heartbreaking and kind of triumphant as Luke conquers his fear and guilt over the incident which has been over his head the the entire film. 

Overall, this movie did not give me nightmares, but it did contain some great jumps and a wonderfully distressing atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of what I’ll call the Hills Have Eyes trope, which is basically the presence of creepy, seemingly inbred crews of hillbillies who are there to explain and/or trap the protagonist, especially when one of them conveniently speaks English and can explain things to that protagonist. In spite of that, though, this is definitely worth checking out. What did you think about the movie? Are there other things about it you liked? Let us know in the comments!