Director David Bruckner has been building up a solid body of work over the past few years. From The Signal through to V/H/S and Southbound, and now this, a fine horror film that stands alongside his last as a perfect example of how to work with familiar tropes to give viewers something that feels a bit fresh and unique.
The basic premise sounds well-worn and overdone, admittedly. Six months after the death of a close friend, a quartet of males go on a hiking trip, commemorating their missing companion before they then get lost in some woods. There's a creepy, empty cabin, there are strange symbols here and there, and tensions develop between the leads. It would be easy to dismiss this, if that is all you had to go on.
Worry not, however, as there's a lot more to get your teeth into. First of all, it's worth mentioning that there isn't one bad performance from the leads: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton. All of them work very well, both as individuals and a group of friends who find their bonds tested.
The second thing to mention is the masterful blend of supernatural elements and very real horror. The opening scenes are among the most intense, with Spall finding himself paralysed with fear as his friend is attacked by robbers, and the rest of the film is tangibly affected by the repercussions from that moment.
Buckner might deserve praise for his direction, subtle and unobtrusive throughout until the time is right to start building up the madness and horror, but Joe Barton helps out a lot with his screenplay (adapting a novel by Adam Nevill). Not only is the camaraderie between the characters all very natural and realistic, there are also seeds of unease sown throughout almost every scene, whether they are human emotional issues or something darker.
All of this would be enough to recommend The Ritual to horror fans but there's even more. You get some impressive, if infrequent, gore, you get some nice visual flourishes that help to show more than just ominous woods, and there's a fantastic bit of work in the third act that gives shape to something entirely otherworldly and unreal.
In case you hadn't realised it yet, this is a horror film that you should treat yourself to as soon as possible. I hope Bruckner keeps on this upward path as a director. He's within reach of delivering genre fans an outright classic.
The Ritual can be bought here.