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Review: Primal and visceral horror haunts ‘The Ritual’

****HOLIDAY SNEAKS 2018***DO NOT USE PRIOR TO SUNDAY, JANUARY 14, 2018********Rafe Spall in a scene
Rafe Spall in the movie “The Ritual” portrays a man tormented by grief over a friend’s slaying at the same time as he is being stalked by a mysterious creature.
(Vlad Cioplea / Netflix)

Director David Bruckner’s survival horror-thriller “The Ritual,” written by Joe Barton and adapted from the novel by Adam Nevill, is “Deliverance” meets “The Blair Witch Project,” the tale of modern men confronting primeval, primitive terrors.

Four Brits set out on a journey hiking through the Swedish wilderness. What was supposed to be a lads’ trip has become a memorial for their friend Rob (Paul Reid), killed in a senseless act of violence during a liquor store robbery. Though it should offer catharsis and closure, the trip only illuminates the resentments among the group, especially toward Luke (Rafe Spall), who was with Rob in his last minutes.

The conflict increases when the men decide to take a shortcut through the forest and end up stalked and hunted by a supernatural creature that roars and bellows in the night, leaving disemboweled animal carcasses hanging in the trees and haunting their dreams.

“The Ritual” is efficient and highly effective in its style, relying on sound, creepy production design, and the men’s own fear and misjudgment to create the sense of pervasive doom. We don’t see the monster in too much detail, leaving the mystery intact, but the creature design is stunningly original.

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Throughout, Luke is tormented by nightmares and visions of Rob’s murder, processing his own grief and loss as he tries to stay alive. Is he a coward? Or possessed of innate self-preservation instincts? It’s an ironic quandary to ponder while battling ancient Swedish monsters.

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‘The Ritual’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

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Playing: Streaming on Netflix

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