Netflix has released quite a few terrifying films since they began creating and distributing Netflix Originals, but one of our favorites is still 2017’s underrated horror The Ritual, directed by David Bruckner and based on the novel of the same name by Adam Nevill.
The film explores a group of grieving friends who are taking a trip in memory of their fallen friend along the Kungsleden hiking trail in northern Sweden. The group decides to take a shortcut through the forest when one of them is injured, leading to a dark confrontation with an ancient evil that featured quite a few terrifying moments that we will explore today.
10 THE LIQUOR STORE
We are first introduced to an old group of university friends – Rob, Luke, Dom, Hutch, and Phil – who are attempting to plan out their next annual trip during a night out. When Luke (played by Rafe Spall) decides to finish the night with a bottle of vodka, he manages to convince his friend Rob (played by Paul Reid) to join him in the store.
Inside they find themselves in the middle of a robbery, and while Luke manages to hide away, Robert is viciously attacked with a machete and killed. This event showcases the real-world horror that anything can happen to anyone at any time, and Robert’s death is not only the impetus for their trip but also serves as a damaging cloud hanging over Luke and his crew throughout the film.
9 ENTERING THE WOODS
The group of friends decided to head into the woods to attempt a shortcut after Dom suffers an injury to his knee, and almost as soon as they enter the woods it starts to look like a bad decision. We see that Hutch’s compass might not be working, and there are odd runes carved into the trees that they pass.
However, the biggest initial scare comes when the friends stumble upon the corpse of a deer in the woods. That in itself is not that unusual, however, the fact that the fresh kill has been eviscerated and hung up from the branches in a tree much higher than any human could accomplish was the first big scare and the first big warning that maybe these friends should turn back.
8 THE EFFIGY
They don’t turn back, of course, and soon enough the weather turns bad and forces them to seek shelter in a dark abandoned cabin they find during their travels. While the night is full of creepy events like hearing something outside or the discovery of a creepy headless antlered effigy made out of sticks, it’s the morning that proves to be truly terrifying.
Luke wakes up outside after a nightmare featuring the liquor store only to find he has been wounded on his chest in the shape of one of the runes on the trees, while his other friends awake from horrifying and possibly prophetic dreams. Phil (played by Arsher Ali) wakes up in the worst condition, naked and praying on his knees in front of the antlered effigy.
7 A HAND IN THE FOREST
Obviously, the group of friends decides to get away from the cabin as quickly as possible, which unfortunately sets them on a path that takes them deeper into the forest, and without a compass, they are left to rely on navigation from Hutch (played by Rob James-Collier) to keep them heading in the right direction.
Fed up with yet another break due to Dom’s injury, Luke rushes to the top of the ridge to see if Hutch is correct about their path, only to find a never-ending path of trees. A sound catches his attention, and he soon focuses on something strange in the woods. A dark hand wrapped around a tree slowly moves out of sight, and we get our first small glimpse of the monster stalking them.
This initial glimpse of the monster was followed with a few more quick sightings through the trees as it followed them, blending in with the surroundings until drawing attention briefly before disappearing in the woods again. With the group forced to camp for another night on the spot of a previously abandoned campsite, the mood is tense and the group is fracturing.
Luke has yet another nightmare set in the liquor store before waking to find his group in terror, and the first attack from the monster occurs, hauling Hutch away quickly and leaving the group lost and scared in the woods as they try to search for their missing friend. They find him in the morning, hanging in the trees just like the carcass they first encountered.
5 “I CAN SEE THE END”
With the remaining trio of friends attempting to escape from the woods and now also the monster hunting them, they are given the briefest moment of hope when Luke again goes to check for the ridge and sees an end to the treeline. He lets them know he “can see the end” shortly before they hear a sound and Phil is violently ripped away from the group.
This quick flash of the monster gives us another shot of its oddly human hands and we begin to see the influences of the monster within Luke’s own nightmare visions of the liquor store.
4 THE SACRIFICE OF DOM
Luke and Dom (played by Sam Troughton) soon found themselves imprisoned within the cabin while their “hosts” are revealed to be worshippers of the monster who had been hunting them. The monster is explained as being a god, a Jötunn, a “bastard offspring of Loki,” and while it goes unnamed in the film the book identified the creature as Moder.
Luke soon learns that the Rune marking on his chest is shared by the people holding them captive, and as Dom doesn’t wear the same mark he is chosen as the sacrifice, which he reveals he saw in his earlier nightmare in the cabin. Dom is offered to the Jötunn, who appears as a vision of his wife before revealing itself to Dom, who is taken to the trees and hung like his friends before him.
One of the reasons the cultists stay in the woods to worship the Jötunn (besides the fact that it forces them to) is that it offers them lasting life, a form of living beyond their natural life. One of the followers reveals that Luke will be undergoing a ritual to join them in following the creature. When Luke is eventually able to escape from his bindings, he discovers the real gift of immortality.
Hidden upstairs in that cabin were rows of what appeared to be mummified remains, all worshipping a central figure. Luke discovers that these remains are actually still alive and that the Jötunn’s promise of immortality is as terrifying as the creature itself, prompting him to set fire to the followers.
2 THE JÖTUNN
As the cabin and its followers begin to burn, the Jötunn turns on those who worshipped him, revealing the monster’s strength and deadliness. The historically shape-shifting creature is a little hard to explain but features a bulky, bony four-legged body with a head resembling a human torso that has giant antlers and hanging human-like arms.
The immense size of the Jötunn as it stands with a dead follower in front of the burning cabin is frightening but what terrifies is the bright eyes shining from the darkness in between its human arms. Those eyes can be seen in Luke’s earlier liquor store nightmares and contribute to the overall horror of the creature, which was one of the most creative horror movie monsters.
While the Jötunn made short work of its congregation, Luke wasted his opportunity to escape by shooting off a round at the monster and calling it’s attention. this led to a horrifying chase through the woods as the monster played with Luke and his inner demons, with the chase culminating in a run through the liquor store as Luke was forced to replay his worst night.
The real terror of the monster is finally revealed as it attempts to force Luke to become its new follower and bow down in worship, manhandling Luke around and displaying its power when he remained defiant.
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