Recently, five friends were in a British pub deciding where to go for a holiday. They wanted a lads' week away from their wives and partners, but could not settle on a destination they all would have preferred: were they too old for Ibiza? Too poor for Vegas? To unfit for a hiking break in Sweden? One of them, Rob (Paul Reid) was especially keen on that last option, and was in the process of persuading the others when he and Luke (Rafe Spall) went into an off licence to buy a bottle of vodka. But only one friend re-emerged alive, as they stumbled across a robbery where Luke hid from the criminals while Rob was attacked and killed for his wedding ring...
This means the surviving pals feel they have to go on that Swedish excursion now, so we pick up the story six months later where they are in the Scandinavian wilderness, decked out with waterproofs and rucksacks, and not having a great time of it. Complaining the loudest of them is the least physically capable, Dom (Sam Troughton), and the others are beginning to grow heartily sick of him, partly because they secretly agree this is no fun and was probably a stupid idea no matter how much they wanted to pay tribute to their fallen comrade. When Dom twists his knee, his aggrieved demeanour is only amplified, so they take the option of a shortcut through a nearby forest.
You don't need me to tell you this is also a stupid idea because this is plainly a horror movie patterned after Deliverance or The Blair Witch Project, though it could have been a mark of how tired viewers were growing of the found footage route that nobody among the characters recorded their journey on a constantly rolling camera. Nope, it was a proper narrative with a beginning, middle and end, not some semi-improvised trudge through inhospitable territory with everyone complaining they were lost and what was that staring at them over there - some kind of monster? Though to be fair, you didn't need a first-person camera to provide that kind of commentary.
Therefore there was a whole lot of whinging going on in The Ritual, which may test the patience as much as the other lost in the woods chillers, but at least you felt their umbrage was justified, though by and by Luke starts to get the blame for the mess the party is in thanks to him taking no action to rescue Rob from the miscreants six months ago. That said, it was more the miscreants' fault for murdering him than it was Luke's fault for not stopping them, and they were armed when he was not, so it's difficult to see what he could have done, therefore Joe Barton's screenplay, based on a novel by Adam Nevill, leaned heavily on the injustice cruel fate can apply to your existence. They could have simply gotten lost, but after a night in a creepy wooden house that looks abandoned, it is apparent something is up.
Something... supernatural? Certainly they all had weird dreams that have manifested themselves in strange behaviour: Luke, for instance, went walkabout and woke up standing up with injuries to his chest he conceals from his friends, and Phil (Arsher Ali) was found naked and praying in an upstairs room before an unexplained wooden effigy. Shaking off their out of character activities, they embark once again, but that impending doom is never far away and this draws up to a grand finale which does indeed include an actual monster, hitherto briefly glimpsed through the trees. This was fairly straightforward, not doing anything strikingly new, but the way director David Bruckner went about it was professional and the cast were game to be paranormally humiliated, leaving a solid, mid-range shocker that might not have been quite as freaky as you hoped, or was capable of, but what it did had a nice back to the pagan times aesthetic which it exploited to the full. Music by Ben Lovett.