Netflix’s The Ritual continues to haunt us with its ancient forest God and terrifying vision. It is a modernized Eldritch Horror.
I remember watching The Ritual for the first time thinking, what? A horror movie got under my skin…how? It was the same for many horror buffs who found themselves led into that claustrophobic forest. But with so little stated outright in the film what do we really know about this mysterious monstrosity? Read on for the hidden gems that reveal more than the Creature itself would probably like us to know.
The only description we have is from a single character who argues it is “…a god. Ancient. One of the Jotunn. A bastard offspring of Loki.” Jotunn, or giant, is the mythic Norse race of supernatural beings connected to natural processes and features. Loki is an actual deity from Norse myth, however, he was by birth a Jotunn shapeshifter. His children are seen in many myths : an enormous serpent, an eight-legged horse, a giant wolf, and even Hella, mistress of the underworld.
Our Creature is a mix of animal, human, and mossy plant-like growths, all put together in a very unsettling way. It has four legs, a human torso for a head, and a face, well, somewhere. Its arms seem less useful than its shear, imposing bulk. Could this chaotic jumble be a product of the Creature’s not-quite-legitimate nature, as though it was never really given a definitive, final form like Loki’s more well-known offspring?
Many jotunn were rulers or guardians of particular mountains, rivers or forests. The creature from The Ritual clearly has a connection to the forest in which it dwells. It has the ability to camouflage itself and move quietly when it wishes, despite its massive size. It silently clears trees in the night to open a path of its choosing for the travelers.
We also see in the final scene of the film that the Creature is actually, physically bound to that immediate area, since it cannot follow Luke once he actually clears the tree line. Given its single mindedness it’s clear the Creature requires worship to survive and thrive. The forest is uncannily devoid of animal sounds. This, coupled with the disemboweled elk, indicates that the Creature wants intentional, conscious worship that can only be provided by humans.
But if the Creature thrives on worship why doesn’t it just work its psychic powers and compel all four men to that end? Well, we’re told it particularly seeks worship by those whose “pain is great.” Perhaps it’s not psychic trauma itself that the Creature wants, but the strength that one must have in order to carry the burden of pain. After feeling out their psyches through nightmares in the abandoned house, the Creature finds that only Luke carries the effects of life-changing trauma. Luke’s connection to the Creature manifests early on when he is the only one to sense a presence in the forest.
Phil’s case in particular makes the Creature’s motivation clear. Phil wakes to find himself naked, bowing before the Creature’s effigy; rather than making him the perfect worshipper it actually shows him to be the weakest of the four. The Creature’s presence in The Ritual causes fugue states that renders the victims unresponsive and immobile. This contrasts with the worshippers we see later on. They are active, relatively functional people, who can offer sacrifices and even verbally converse with their god.
It might also be that like many supernatural bargains, this one must be accepted willingly. Interactions with Luke in the film’s final moments support this. Even after Luke has significantly lowered its worshipper count the Creature gives him multiple chances. It’s not harming him when it pushes him back down to his knees. It’s trying to manipulate him into staying down on his own.
One small detail sums up the Creature’s nature quite nicely. Throughout the film we a see a Norse rune- odal. It is carved and displayed in several places and even seen in the scarring given to the Creature’s chosen ones. Odal represents home, tradition, and ancestral heritage. But it can also be displayed upside down, indicating stagnation and slavery to tradition.
This is the double-edged bargain the Creature offers. The home is a prison. Its worshippers are its slaves. It will punish them if they fail in their duty to maintain its power. The long life is actually a trap; they are outside the natural cycle of life and death until one crumbles into dust.
The Creature itself forms the odal rune when it formally presents itself before Luke in all its grotesque glory. In this position it forms the upright rune, perhaps trying to convey the attractive side of what it offers. Of course, this would mean that the Creature can’t help but present the opposite meaning most of the time. You could say its nature is in plain sight.
It’s been several years since The Ritual arrived on Netflix and its Creature captured our horrid little hearts. As massive a beast as it is, it’s the subtler points that have really helped it stick with us. People are still drawing it, painting it, sculpting it, and talking about it. A Jotunn would be quite pleased to know that it still gets so much attention three years on.
I’m a big nerd for folk and eco-horror, sci-fi both ridiculous and sublime, and cannibal exploitation films. I also enjoy petting cats.