The Hangover downs shots with Deliverance and The Blair Witch Project, and blood flows more readily than the booze, in David Bruckner’s horror thriller.
Laced with Nordic mythology and laddish banter, The Ritual is a grim tale of hapless thirtysomething pals, who get horribly lost in a Scandinavian forest and come face-to-face with a malevolent force that drives them to the brink of despair.
You won’t need a map and compass to navigate each twist in Joe Barton’s script, adapted from the novel by Adam Nevill, or discern the order in which thinly sketched characters are most likely to meet a grisly demise.
The winding path to carnage is familiar and Bruckner’s picture employs gallows humour to acknowledge these horror tropes as well as alleviate tension, like when the pals stumble into a tumbledown shack under the rain-sodden cloak of darkness and discover their temporary refuge is festooned with ancient runes.
“This is clearly the house we get murdered in,” quips one of the gang.
“It’s not as bad as our uni accommodation,” retorts another, hoping to lighten the mood of grim foreboding as lightning flashes through broken windows.
Tragedy stalks early scenes as five drinking buddies – Dom (Sam Troughton), Hutch (Robert James-Collier), Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali) and Rob (Paul Reid) – fail to agree on a destination for their next lads’ weekend.
They leave the pub and Luke and Rob pop into a late night off-licence to grab more booze.
Unwittingly, they walk into a bungled robbery.
Luke cowers unseen at the end of an aisle while Rob faces the thieves and is hacked to death for refusing to hand over his ring.
Six months later, the remaining quartet heads to northern Sweden to honour Rob’s memory by hiking through the barren, picturesque wilderness.
“You know what they have on walking trails in England?” whines Dom. “Pubs.”
He subsequently twists an ankle and alpha male Hutch suggests they head back to their lodge by taking a short cut through a dense forest.
Ignoring a signpost that reads This Is A Very Bad Idea, likely lads Hutch, Luke, Phil and an increasingly ill-tempered Dom head southwest through the tightly packed trees.
As night falls and thunder rumbles overhead, tempers fray and the four friends are plagued by nightmarish visions that gnaw away at their sanity.
The Ritual resists the temptation for cheap, jump-out-of-your-seat scares to focus on a sustained build-up of tension.
Bruckner’s approach works, tickling our discomfort until the underwritten characters’ fears are realised in a climactic bloodbath augmented with digital effects.
Pleasing on-screen rapport between the central quartet, who trade potty-mouthed barbs with relish, papers over some of the more ludicrous and fantastical aspects of the plot.
Realism takes a hike and is never seen again.