The Netflix Horror That Will Make You Scared To Go In The Woods

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Published

the ritual

We count ourselves lucky that the current horror movie landscape features films that surpass mere entertainment, reflecting our deepest fears and cultural anxieties. A prime example of this, functioning as a chilling and excellent ode to the best of the genre, would be The Ritual, currently streaming on Netflix. 

The Ritual

the ritual

The film is a work of folk horror—to exemplify that particular sub-genre, think Midosommar or even the original The Wicker Man—directed by David Bruckner and penned by Joe Barton. It relates the tale of four friends whose hiking trip in a Swedish old-growth forest turns into a nightmare when they encounter an ancient evil. 

The Source Material

Like many great screenplays, The Ritual owes its narrative prowess to a preceding fiction work—in this case, Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel of the same name. The movie stars Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton, who all act commendably and convincingly to portray the relatable dynamic of close friends whose bond is brought to the brink. 

Honoring A Fallen Friend

The story begins in the heart of urban London; five lifelong mates gather in a pub, plotting their next hiking trip. The night’s merriment takes a dark turn, however, when two of them, Luke and Rob, witness a robbery—a theft-turned-murder. Rob loses his life in the course of the crime, and Luke winds up forever haunted by his inability to intervene. This beating heart of guilt, trauma, and regret comprises the emotional core of The Ritual. 

An Ill-Chosen Shortcut

the ritual

Six months after the traumatic event, the group, reduced to four, embarks on their yearly hiking trip, all the same—a trek along the Kungsleden, a trail in northern Sweden. More than a simple pleasure trip, the romp constitutes a tribute to their fallen friend. Of course, this being a horror movie, once one of the friends injures his knee, the pals opt for a shortcut (!)—a quick jaunt, they think, through a creepy forest. Thus, their would-be healing expedition devolves into a nightmare. 

A foreboding omen marks the group’s first night in the unpeopled wilderness: an elk, gutted and hung from the trees, above strange runes carved into the bark—all signaling the existence of something otherwordly. Regardless, The Ritual’s cast must obtain shelter in an oncoming, relentless storm and hole up in an abandoned cab. There, they discover more pagan symbols and an effigy constructed of twigs and antlers, resembling a headless human torso. 

Things Just Keep Getting Worse

After a night of horrifying nightmares, the luckless Brits attempt in vain to escape the forest, only growing increasingly lost within the endless trees. Hostilities mount, particularly toward Luke, whose endless guilt over their deceased friend’s murder and his inability to act on his dead friend’s behalf festers into open accusations of cowardice from Dom. 

As could be predicted, things worsen for the unfortunate stars of The Ritual. Soon, the unseen entity hunting them gets much more violent. When the fleeing heroes think they’ve finally reached sanctuary, they learn things are worse than they ever could’ve imagined.

A Visually Masterful Folk Horror

the ritual

The film debuted to much fanfare at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. Stirring audiences and critics alike, The Ritual secured a major release by distributor eOne before the streaming giant Netflix acquired it.

One of the film’s major strengths is its ability to masterfully mix Nordic folklore elements with acute psychological horror. The film’s monster, inspired by Norse mythology, is a masterpiece of creature design: seemingly organic and somehow “realistic,” yet also terrifying and wholly original. The antagonistic elements of the film also effectively manifest themes of guilt, grief, and one’s inescapable past.

Moreover, the movie is a visual spectacle, filmed in the scenic yet imposing Carpathian Mountains of Romania. The natural setting lends itself ably to the “creepy woods” aesthetic. 

Critics Weren’t As Convinced

the ritual

Critics were favorable, though a tad divided, on The Ritual, with some praising it lavishly for its achievements in atmospheric tension and incorporation of Scandinavian mythology. Experts also lauded Ben Lovet’s haunting score.

Others, less compelled by the blend of psychological depth and folk horror, criticized the movie for relying on familiar genre tropes. 

Its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 74% based on 96 reviews, nonetheless, evidencing its strong, albeit mildly mixed, critical reception. 

For a terrifying cinematic experience bursting with originality, stream The Ritual today.