David Bruckner, of V/H/S fame, has a new film at TIFF this year and my excitement was endless. Amateur Night was a thrilling and disturbing short that shook me to my core, leading me to get no sleep that night. The thought of Bruckner creating a feature film that embodied even half of the horrifying moments from that 16-minute short made me ecstatic. The question of “does it deliver?” is a hard one to answer, seeing as The Ritual is completely different from anything Amateur Night was attempting to be.
Bruckner noticeably obtains his inspiration from The Blair Witch Project – a few buddies get lost in the woods, some freaky stuff starts going on. It’s a conventional plot device that hardly works anymore. (Although it does greatly succeed here due to the fresh point-of-view Bruckner has on the material and the way he executes the narrative.) Having our characters experience all kinds of hardships without even coming face to face with an antagonist makes for some horrifying sequences and I can’t stress how much I adored this choice. Plenty of Hollywood horror films have had their tension ruined because they show their monster way too early on – and most times it is just a poorly CGI-d, unintentionally hilarious blob, groaning horrific lines of dialogue.
The Ritual (for the most part) keeps the audience in fear of the monster’s physical appearance by not showing it on screen for most of the film. For the final act – when the monster does get a considerable amount of screen time – the visual effects used made the it quite believable. The tension was never compromised due to how much care was put into making it look as terrifying and realistic as possible.
This is one of the only horror films from 2017 that I can call “campy” to a certain extent. It’s always tense and hardly relies on jump scares, but it feels like too much like a genre flick. The film follows all the tropes you would expect as the narrative goes along and nothing will ever really take you by surprise. What does get you rooting for these characters is the lightning-fast chemistry they have with each other and how visibly strong their friendship is – even if they are undeveloped. It’s a fun, spooky “midnight” film that will definitely please fans of the genre, but I don’t think it’ll turn on any newcomers.
Public Screenings: Sept 10 1:45pm