Review: Netflix's 'The Ritual' Starring Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, and Arsher Ali

Netflix has been on the ball recently. Not only are they the masters of high profile TV, but they’ve also been acquiring big movies left and right. Their formlessness is their power. On Netflix, a story teller can focus on an individual plot for a 30 minute one-off anthology episode, a two hour movie, or a nine part miniseries depending on how much time the story needs to breathe. I’m afraid with their most recent release, The Ritual, they might have picked the wrong form.

The Ritual tells the story of a group of British bros who go on a hiking trip in the memory of their recently deceased friend, who died in a convenience store robbery while the one friend (Rafe Spall) watched in hiding. Their hike takes an unexpected shortcut through the woods, and from there on, we’re in pretty generic horror territory. It starts to rain. They stay in a secluded cabin. They hear unexplained spooky noises, etc, etc., etc. Horror ensues.

I don’t mean to suggest that this isn’t a good movie because it is,  it’s just uninspired. Anyone who’s seen or even heard of Blair Witch already knows nothing good comes from staying in the cabin in the woods. Taking away the first-person aspect just makes this an even more straight forward horror movie with no real style of its own.

What I did find interesting about the movie is the use of the main character’s guilt over his friend’s death. He hid instead of fighting back and now his friend is dead. Without crossing into spoiler territory, I feel it safe to say that, as a horror movie, this point gets revisited a couple of times throughout the film. Focusing on the feeling of survivor’s guilt is an interesting new perspective to show us. I just wish we had more time to fully explore the extent of his grief, which is probably my biggest problem with the whole film.

Since The Ritual premiered on Netflix, it’s hard to overlook the missed opportunity to work this plot into a format that better suits it. This could have been a miniseries, and allowed for more time to explore the character’s motivations in addition to the spookiness of being lost in the woods. It also could have been a short, or an episode of an anthology show. Perhaps less horror filler would have benefitted the storytelling. Regardless, a 90 minute runtime cluttered with jump-scares just didn’t do these themes justice.

Ultimately this is a decent movie. It’s just disappointing that it had such a fresh perspective mixed to such a paint-by-numbers storyline.

2.5 out of 5