FEARNET Movie Review: 'Ritual'


Anyone who calls themselves a horror geek knows who After Dark Films is by now -- even if they don't know it. What began as a multi-film release structure (8 horror films on the same day?!?) has now slowed down to a virtual trickle, and the company's most recent releases -- Dark Circles, Red Clover, and the non-horror flick The Getaway -- haven't done much for the outfit's popularity. And now they deliver something called Ritual. It's not very good.

Clearly inspired by low-key indie horror films (like the ones Ti West makes, so at least writer/director Mickey Keating has good taste in viewing material), Ritual has some decent components in its corner, but its meandering plot, confused narrative structure, and frequently familiar story trappings prevent the "decent components" from gaining much of a foothold. The score, by one Giona Ostinelli, is pretty solid, for example, as is leading lady Lisa Marie Summerscales, even if she's not given much to do besides scream, run, whimper, and shriek.
The plot is simple stuff: a man arrives at a motel room in which his estranged wife and a dead man are located. After much yelling and arguing, we learn A) how the guy was killed, B) why he was there in the first place, and C) that they should get the hell out of the motel before the dead guy's occultist buddies show up and finish their, yes, ritual. And then other problems arise.
For all its issues, and there are many, Ritual feels like a well-intentioned combination of motel thrillers like Identity and indie horror films with some patience and brains like Ti West's The Innkeepers -- but good intentions (and solid influences) can only take a film so far. If a simple story is told with a good deal of chatterbox shoe leather and a rough cinematographic style that feels more grating than grittily effective, well, then an already familiar story hits the screen feeling not-so-fresh -- and that's when a few good components (like music and actors) get lost amidst a pedestrian and rather unappealing package.
By the time the film's creepy bits show up - and they do - Ritual has simply run out of energy. Kudos to Keating for his attention to character and for a slow build-up of ominous suspense, but overall Ritual is too much talk, too much cutting, and too much stuff we've already seen before.