Five old college old friends meet to get drunk and discuss their annual vacation together. Rob wants to hike in Sweden, but the others all make fun of him. On their way home, Luke decides to get a bottle of vodka in a convenience store. Inside, Rob is killed by criminals when he won’t give up his wedding ring. Luke is too slow to help and can only watch his friend be killed. From these very urban origins, the rural horror of The Ritual begins.
To celebrate their friend, the survivors take the trip he wanted to Kungsleden, or King’s Trail, in Sweden’s Sarek National Park. One of them hurts his knee, so they decide to take a faster path home, but start to discover strange things like animals gutted and hung from trees and strange runes carved in the trees.
Seeking shelter in an abandoned house, the men discover more runes and strange statues, yet they stay there for the night. When Luke wakes from an evening of nightmares, he has puncture wounds all over his chest. As they go deeper into the forest, their feelings toward one another — some blame Luke for Rob’s death — come to light. And they start getting killed off by whatever is tracking them and left hung like the animals they say before.
Soon, only Luke and Dom are left and the latter has been selected as a sacrifice to the Jötunn, who takes human lives and gives immortality in return. Luke must take part in the ritual and submit to the god or die. He refuses and the creature makes him relive his nightmares again and again until he’s able to fight back and make his way to the edge of the woods, a place where it loses its power. Screaming in its face, Luke has survived.
Directed by David Bruckner (V / H / S, Southbound), whose work I hadn’t enjoyed much until this film, this is a great throwback to 1970’s occult horror. It has a dark and sinister feel from the moment everyone journeys into the forest. It doesn’t hold any surprises, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great ride.
You can check it out for yourself on Netflix.