Ritual is a relationship drama tucked into a occult sacrifice horror/thriller. Its director, Mickey Keating, has become something of a horror media darling (nailed it!) since the premiere of his film, Darling, at Fantastic Fest 2015. This earlier film offers a glimpse into the talent that would go on to make Darling (which, I have to assume is good because I haven’t actually seen it.)
Lovely (Lisa Marie Summerscales) (a GREAT fucking name, by the way) calls her ex, Tom (Dean Cates), in a panic asking for his help. He reluctantly agrees and meets her at a shitty motel where she begs him not to get upset through the closed/locked door. When he finally gets her to open the door, she is spattered with blood and there’s an apparently dead good-ol-boy on the floor. Turns out the guy got rough with Lovely and she stabbed him a couple (or a few) times. Tom lets his feelings for Lovely overrule his better judgment on what to do, and decides to help her get rid of the body. He finds some drug (rohypnol?) when he goes through the guy’s pockets and a black robe, a skull mask, and a video camera while rummaging through the dead guy’s car. The footage on the camera reveals that this guy had some rather nefarious plans for Lovely. Like, ritual (eh?!) sacrifice during the harvest moon nefarious. His satanic friends soon come looking for him.
Ritual suffers from some common low budget woes. Specifically, the performances are not the greatest and at least one set is pretty unconvincing. That’s not really a problem though. We low budget/independent horror film lovers know that it’s easy to look past these things as long as the film balances it out with its strengths. Ritual attempts to do just that. Keating sets the scene and develops his characters efficiently. We are seeing a heightened version of the back-and-forth that many ex-couples experience. Tom cares about Lovely but he also hates her because she hurt him. Obviously, that’s a defense mechanism, because he helps her despite risking jail (or worse). The robed, masked bad guys are sufficiently creepy, but there are a couple of touches that make them even creepier. A reveal about how Lovely ended up in the motel in the first place is chilling (and her being trapped in the trunk of a car when she finds out ups the stakes even more.) And there is a smiling, polite character (who looks like he could be Kenny Rogers’ little brother) who creates an uneasy atmosphere that lasts so long, the viewer is squirming by the scene’s payoff. That scene in particular shows a level of trust in the film’s audience. We see that something’s not right and confirmation of this suspicion comes only after we’ve been strung along for a while. We are not given the easy way out. This is especially rare in an independent horror film. Do Ritual’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses? I think so.
THE FINAL CUT: Ritual suffers from some (probably) budget related problems but there are moments of greatness. The film has some effective scares. And Keating gains our sympathies for his characters quickly, so we cheer (and fear) for them right from the start.