This week on FIELD OF STREAMS: Netflix’s new horror tale of friendship and sacrifice… and a few extra streaming recommendations from Shudder, Fandor, Prime, and Filmstruck
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The inevitability of Netflix’s new horror film being compared to other horror classics will be simply unavoidable. Set in present day, the film contains shades of The Blair Witch Project, Deliverance and The Village all within a 90 minute runtime. Yet while these inspirations are easy to spot, The Ritual rises above its familiar story to exist as its own entity. Handsomely shot, surprisingly involving (for a genre film) and managing to move at a solid and brisk pace, The Ritual ultimately earns its spot as a stellar British horror offering.
The Ritual centers on Londoner Luke (Rafe Spall), who along with his three closest friends Phil (Arsher Ali), Hutch (Robert-James Collier) and Dom (Sam Troughton) decide to take a hiking trip through a mountains of Switzerland in honor of their late friend Robert (Paul Reid), who died in a convenience store hold-up a year before. Adding to the tension of the trip is the unspoken resentment the others feel towards Luke due to the fact that he hid behind a shelf during the crime and did not step in to save his friend. As the group proceeds through a nearby forest in search of a shortcut, strange noises and occurrences begin to take place which make each man face their fears and all but guarantee that the four of them won’t make it through alive.
There’s no question that The Ritual benefits from its mountainous European forest landscape, which allows it to remain wonderfully self-contained while providing impressive one location shot after another. In fact, the way director David Bruckner and cinematographer Andrew Shulkind have captured the world in The Ritual is so intensely unique, they literally manage to blend the familiar and the strange together for a setting that’s both eerie and entrancing. As for the horrors themselves, the fright elements of The Ritual start off as more or less natural with breaking sticks and unidentifiable animal noises happening out of the characters’ sights. It’s here where The Ritual truly shines as a horror film; showing the fear of being stranded in the wilderness. The maddening isolation and the unknown power of the elements leads to a series of delusions (including an impressive sequence where Luke is seen running through both the forest and the convenience store simultaneously) which bring their own horrors and leads to an experience that is consistently unnerving as well as horrific. Eventually the real horrors of the film do indeed show themselves, and while they keep the film entertaining, they can’t help but pale in comparison to the jarring and suspenseful atmospheric journey that came before. Ultimately however, The Ritual does a good job of functioning as a story of friendship and brotherhood. Throughout the film, the feelings of guilt, resentment, trust and the overall bond that exists in spite of the horrors each of the four men face, manages to feel authentic all the way through.
If you dig The Ritual or have a hankering for more horror flavored films… here are some recommendations streaming on some of our other favorite services:
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau is a truly must-see chronicle in which indie horror wunderkind filmmaker Stanley battled the Australian jungle, an unpredictable cast, a prickly studio and unexplainable forces beyond anyone’s control in trying to bring his vision of the classic H.G. Wells novel to the screen. While the film is now an infamous Hollywood bomb, the story behind it remains endlessly unreal.
The Baby is one of the oddest horror films in existence; a family, headed by a fearsome Ruth Roman, keep the youngest member of the household (a man in his 20s) trapped in the existence of a toddler. The oddest aspect of the film is not the family’s actions themselves, but rather how the outside world, from babysitters (who are probably younger than Baby), to social workers, all look at this grown man’s condition as normal. The premise is so oddly bizarre, that it would be easy to miss the overall suspense in The Baby, particularly its genuinely shocking conclusion which takes the weirdness factor even higher.
In The Curse of the Cat People, happily married parents Kent Smith and Jane Randolph live a tranquil existence with their young daughter until a ghost from their past begins to take over the child. Although billed as a sequel, this dreamy and intriguing film does take a little while to link itself to its now-classic counterpart. Once it does however, The Curse of the Cat People becomes both a mesmerizing tale of childhood innocence and exploration as well as a story of never being able to fully escape the past.
In The New Daughter, Kevin Costner makes a rare foray into the horror genre with this tale of a divorced author named John who moves his two children to a small town for a fresh start. When his daughter begins to spend too much time in the mysterious woods behind their home, John is convinced that evil spirits set on destroying their family have begun to take over. Essentially a metaphor for a father dealing with his daughter’s transition into womanhood, The New Daughter’s effective, moody chills give way to a man re-discovering the importance of family.