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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Ritual takes place in a rugged European forest when four longtime British friends find themselves alone, lost, and seemingly in the sights of an evil, lurking presence that seeks to do them harm. Relying on chilling sounds and accomplished camera work, the movie is very scary, and includes some shocking visuals of the dead victims of a mystifying evil. Expect multiple terrifying sequences and bloody deaths, including -- spoiler alert -- human sacrifice and ritual killing. Accelerating the tension is conflict within the ranks based on unresolved emotions after an earlier tragedy befell their clan. Obscenities are as constant as the scares, with characters relying heavily on use of expletives (e.g., "f--k," "s--t," "bastard," and more) as evidence of the daunting and escalating danger. There's some drinking and smoking. Unlike many successful American horror movies, which feature teens in peril and are often directed at teen audiences, this film portrays mature characters, mature emotions, and the scares are never taken lightly. Solid fare for horror fans.
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What's the story?
In THE RITUAL, after a group of five British friends drink and make merry in a local pub, one of them is brutally murdered in a liquor store robbery. Six months later, the remaining four men: Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali), Hutch (Robert James-Collier), and Dom (Sam Troughton) hike through the countryside of Northern Sweden to honor their fallen friend. After a fitting tribute and the creation of a shrine for "Bob," they start back to their lodge. Almost immediately, Dom falls, hurting his knee. Hutch, who appears to be the group's leader and holder of both the compass and the map, strongly suggests that given Dom's injury, they try to find a shorter way back through the woods. It's a fatal mistake. Coming upon an elk, gutted and hanging from a tree, they're more than a little unnerved. Then, as night falls and eerie animal sounds envelope them, they take refuge in an abandoned cabin. It's a place filled with strange relics, ritual markings, and an effigy made of straw. The four men begin to unravel. Escalating the tension, long-standing animosities emerge and all four experience harrowing nightmares. Come morning, a shocking death sends them reeling. What follows is an all-out fight for survival against an unseen villain or villains who seem to be aware of their every move as they desperately try to escape the forest.
Is it any good?
A well-executed, deftly performed horror story supplies the requisite amount of scares along with some insightful notions about guilt, redemption, and maturity. The four heroes in The Ritual are literally "babes in the woods," ill-equipped for what would challenge even the most skilled adventurers. They're youngish city folk. They have wives, kids, and college educations. And the actors make the most of even the sketchiest roles. Watch for Rob James-Collier's terrific presence as Hutch, almost unrecognizable after his six-season performance as Thomas, the closeted servant of Downton Abbey. David Bruckner, an American director, keeps the suspense disarming and tight. The soundtrack is notable; the cinematography is impressive. While some of the plotting may be conventional -- a few familiar ghastly frights in the isolated cabin and in the forest -- Bruckner has made even old tropes fresh, terrifying and, in some cases, appalling. Great for horror flick fans, but not for the squeamish, and certainly not for kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the two kinds of violence in The Ritual. Which did you find scarier: the on-camera attacks and mayhem, or the suspense leading to those moments? Why? Do you think it's true that our imaginations may fill us with dread even more than watching actual events? Can you explain why?
The opening sequences in the bar and the liquor store are highly significant in the film. How did those scenes resonate throughout the rest of the movie? How did the early events affect your understanding of the four men, particularly Luke? Did you agree with Luke's choice at that crucial moment in the store? Why or why not?
How did the filmmakers use both flashbacks and nightmares to heighten suspense? Could you distinguish one from the other? Did it matter?
The movie's soundtrack was a crucial element in telegraphing the danger the men were in. Think about the many sounds the filmmakers used. Which ones were most unsettling to you?
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