How overfamiliar does a horror movie have to be before even the filmmakers have to wonder, “Why bother?”
“The Ritual,” a British eOne/Netflix production, packs a bunch of boy-bonding lads off into the wilds of Sweden. No “found footage,” but it’s “The Borgholm Witch Project” in the Swedish “Cabin in the Woods,” “Wicker Man,” the works.
A beastly presence, witch signs carved on trees, the terror that lies just beyond the flashlight’s last beaming. This is based on a novel, you say? Novelist Adam Nevill was Netflixing every “Ten Little Indians” variation of the past twenty years as prep, then.
There are five, to begin with. Guys who like pubs and booze and group vacations. Even as they close in on midlife, with its curse of brunches and Rogaine. Where to, next?
“We’re too old for Ibiza!”
“Amsterdam?” “Too touristy.”
They’ve just rejected “Let’s hike the Swedish ‘Appalachian Trail,'” when Rob (Paul Reid) who proposed it is murdered in a convenience store hold up. Luke (Rafe Spall of “The Big Short,” “Hot Fuzz”) cowered behind a shelf as it happened, a shameful act that gives him nightmares.
The four survivors — masculine, seemingly competent in the woods Hutch (Robert James-Collier of “Downton Abbey”), Phil (British TV star Arsher Ali) and bespectacled whiner Dom (Sam Troughton) — do what survivors always do in the movies.
They take on Rob’s quest, do the hike and stack a few stones into a memorial for him.
A twisted knee, a “short cut” off the treeless hills and rocky crags through a forest, and all Satanic hell breaks loose.
Weird, unnatural noises, “the bit they don’t show you in the nature documentaries,” a gutted goat in a tree, the carvings, the abandoned lodge where rituals abide. Let’s leave nothing out, shall we?
“Ooo knows whut they’re into up ‘here?”
The schisms within the group aren’t avoided with endless, “We’re not THOSE guys” and “Don’t BE that guy!”
These are good actors, and the “World’s End” pub banter promises an entertaining if cliched dynamic, with “Why do you always pretend you were in the Scouts? You were never in the Scouts” and an amusing statement of the horror movie obvious.
“A shortcut wouldn’t be called a shortcut if it was safe. It’d be called a ROUTE.”
But David “The Signal” Bruckner’s horror quickie, the Unseen Threat too quickly becomes Seen, and is seen as silly. The odd chilling bit is utterly undercut by the wacky, worn out premise.
And in the end, nobody gets off Scot-Free. Not Bruckner. Especially not the actors.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, nudity, profanity
Cast: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton, Paul Reid
Credits:Directed by David Bruckner, script by Joe Barton based on the Adam Nevill novel. An eOne/Netflix release.
Running time: 1:34