Mega spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched The Ritual on Netflix yet.
Sometimes, the most memorable part of a horror movie is its monster. Even if the acting isn’t up to snuff, the plot is something you’ve seen before, and the characters make some bonehead decisions, a good movie monster can salvage an otherwise forgettable flick. I’m happy to say that David Bruckner‘s The Ritual is a rare horror film that actually has a solid cast, a story full of twists and turns you won’t see coming, and a deeper emotional level to the narrative that’s rare among macho movies these days. (Read Phil Brown‘s review here.) Beyond all that, it gets kicked up a notch for a truly remarkable movie monster that’s a thrilling addition to the genre, but probably needs a little extra explanation for the viewers at home.
Adapted by Joe Barton from Adam Nevill‘s novel of the same name, The Ritual follows a group of college friends on a hiking trip in Sweden. What starts out as a guys retreat in tribute to a fallen friend soon turns into a fight for survival as things take a turn for the very, very creepy. In a maze-like forest, the gang comes across cryptic symbols, a seemingly abandoned cabin, and a headless effigy in the attic, but these are just the beginning of their troubles. Something is hunting them through the forest, picking them off one by one. And while The Ritual does a solid job in offering great looks at this original movie monster and explaining just enough of its mythology to satisfy most viewers, we wanted to dive a little deeper.
Our own Haleigh Foutch spoke to Bruckner about his movie and, specifically, its ending and original monster creation. Bruckner spoke about the mythology of the creature and the decision to save the full reveal until the end of the movie:
[It’s] sort of this old Norse Viking nightmare that these modern men have wandered into. That the movie should always go for it, in the end. Whatever that means. So we always knew that we wanted to reveal, in one way or another, what it was. There are many movies that I admire that are withholding until the end, and like I said, we just felt that wasn’t this film.
So, yeah, we had to feature it and that meant that we had to kind of literalize not just how it looks, but how it chooses to present. Because the idea of these kinds of shape-shifting Norse gods is that they can kind of choose how they want to look to you. So, what you’re seeing is how it desires to be interpreted, and it’s part of the way it intimidates and controls.
One of the coolest aspects of The Ritual‘s monster is its bizarro design and how it was glimpsed piecemeal throughout the telling of the tale–an antler here, a spooky visage there, a pair of human-like hands somehow extending from too big a body–all up until the final act where it’s fully revealed in all its horrific glory. Even without the very human story at the center of this movie, it’s worth a watch for the monster alone.
The Ritual brought on Keith Thompson, a concept artist for Guillermo del Toro who has worked on Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Pacific Rim, The Strain, and Crimson Peak. Here’s an insightful quote regarding Thompson’s design of the creature:
He threw a bunch of images across the desk based on those conversations. One of the things we loved about this was that it, it was a difficult construction to understand at a certain glance. You know, that you could sort of build a mystery, just a very simple visual mystery around it.
Well, we talked a lot about different influences in Norse mythology. We knew that it was gonna be some sort of animal god, and, but we also talked a lot about it would have a sentience, and how would you give it a human quality? How would you obfuscate the difference between animal and human, and how could an animal form read with a human intelligence?
And so, Keith had many variations on those kinds of conversations, and this was one that he would kind of do an initial design on a few different things, and then I would have some notes. And this was one of his original designs based on our conversations that he had passed across and I loved it instantly.