With shared themes and the same power to terrify and unnerve, “The Ritual” offers much to love for fans of “The Descent” and creeping tension.
In 2005, horror audiences bore witness to a sextant of adventurous women exploring an underground North Carolina cave system to face their inner demons in Neil Marshall’s The Descent. The film was widely well-received by fans and critics alike for its unique approach to survival horror.
What The Descent had to offer in scares was matched only by its exploration of the human condition, including grief and forgiveness.
There have been several entries into the survival horror genre since The Descent first sent us spelunking into the unknown, but David Bruckner’s The Ritual is the closest to a spiritual successor of The Descent than any other contemporary release.
The Ritual is the first film in Bruckner’s (Hellraiser 2022) unofficial grief trilogy and follows a strained group of male friends as they embark on a hike through the Scandinavian wilderness.
The plot of The Ritual reads as formulaic, but much like The Descent, the execution is stylized, subversive, and downright creepy.
The film follows four old friends, more connected to one another now through shared loss than mutual affection, who decide to go on a brief backpacking trip in honor of their friend Rob, who was murdered in a tragic liquor store robbery. The Swedish woodlands give them men more than their guilt and grief to reckon with as they contend with the elements, a potentially fatal injury, and… a pagan demigod with a gnarly creature design.
The Ritual hits many of the same beats as The Descent, and the two are very closely thematically tied.
However, the exploration of those themes is unique to the characters and creatures they serve.
The pack of women in The Descent are deviations from the damsel in distress trope we so often see in horror movies, something that is juxtaposed with the city-dwelling ineptitude of the men in The Ritual.
Luke (Rafe Spall), Hutch (Rob James-Collier), Phil (Arsher Ali), and Dom (Sam Troughton) in The Ritual are a far cry from the uber-masculine men of survival horror’s past (looking at you, Burt Reynolds in Deliverance).
Sure, they share the manly and stereotypical inability to express their emotions healthily. But through the trials and tribulations of being used as sacrificial lambs in the film’s titular ritual, they come to terms with their shared past, grief, and guilt. The result is a beautifully shot film that teeters on the edge of magical realism and folk horror.
The design of Moder, a mythological Norse deity, is one of the best creature designs in recent horror, and David Bruckner leverages the creature quite strategically. He is shown enough to be breathtaking but not long enough for audiences to grow apathetic.
The Ritual may not be as viscerally scary as The Descent, but it is equally disturbing. Viewers will experience the same claustrophobia they did in the Carolinian caves without ever venturing below sea level.
If you’re looking for scares paired with a sharp emotional edge, The Ritual will deliver in spades.
Next time you decide to take a walk down memory lane with The Descent, make it a double feature and watch The Ritual along with it. These two films are bound by concentric circles that will make you dizzy, scared, and wildly entertained.