Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: The Ritual

Netflix has been spending millions on original content for a while now, eager to become an entertainment destination unto themselves and not just a place for binge-watching old sitcoms. There have been massive successes (Stranger Things), and some obvious failures (anything Adam Sandler gave them). But when they pick up a low-budget horror flick from a newbie director featuring no big stars and a story steeped in Norse mythology, it's reasonable to assume it's a movie one should skip. This is one of those situations where it feels so good to be wrong. Let's get lost in The Ritual.

This tagline was changed before release, following the tragic shooting in the city of Las Vegas.
The story centers on Luke (Rafe Spall), an emotionally disabled man who's reeling with guilt from an incident 6 months prior. While his friend Rob met his death in a liquor store at the hands of a minor perp, Luke cowered behind a shelving unit, clutching a bottle of vodka like a security blanket. As a tribute to their fallen friend, Luke and the rest of the gang -Phil, Hutch, and Dom- are hiking through the wilds of Scandinavia, something Rob had always wanted to do. No one is talking about what Luke did (or rather, didn't do) in the liquor store when Rob was killed, but it's on their minds.

When Dom experiences an injury that drastically slows him and the group down, it's suggested they cut the trip in half by traveling as the crow flies and taking a shortcut directly through the forest. What begins as an adventure in brotherly hiking quickly turns into a creepfest, as the men encounter pagan cabins, stunningly realistic nightmares, and a predator unlike anything they've ever seen in front of or behind their eyes. And all the while, old regrets keep bubbling to the surface, like bad booze...

The Ritual is one of those films that will either delight or exhaust you depending on how many horror films you've seen. What I mean to say is, it's not a particularly original plot, and the individual story beats will be pretty recognizable too. There's echoes of The Blair Witch Project, The Descent, The Hills Have Eyes, even Jaws. But the movie does everything so well, and so confidently, I just didn't care. Director David Bruckner does a wonderful job with his first feature-length, knowing just how long to hold the camera, when to let the actors do the heavy lifting, when to show the monster in full.

Oh yes, there is a monster. If you have better than average knowledge of Norse mythology, you may be able to see where the story is going by the halfway point, but that doesn't spoil the incredible reveal. The general consensus online is that The Ritual's big bad boasts the best creature design in years if not decades, and I have to agree. A truly original beastie, with a clever mix of practical and CGI effects, you'll be hard-pressed to get it out of your mind. I'm not going to share it here, you have to see it for yourself.

Your mileage on the human antagonists may vary, as they definitely repeat a lot of what's come before, with less verve and imagination than the woods and the creature. Still, the discovery Luke makes in the attic is a highlight of the film. The best thing about the script is how smartly it deployed comedy. The Ritual is not a funny movie and isn't meant to be, but that just makes the two or three humorous moments land that much harder. One unexpected act of violence near the finale made me do an actual spit-take. Everyone in the cast does a fine job, straddling the line between unlikable and sympathetic with aplomb. Probably best known to Yanks as one of the 2 Andys from Hot Fuzz, Spall does a fantastic job as a leading man, and a dramatic one no less. 

Like all good movies, it's about something more, and something deeper, than just the surface narrative of a group of men getting lost in the woods and dying. The Ritual digs into things that guys have trouble articulating, even when they want to: guilt, regret, what they need to do to achieve or even feel redemption, forgiveness. Bruckner mentioned in an interview that men have much more difficulty than women not just making new friends as they get older, but maintaining the relationships they have. No one is sure EXACTLY why that is, but the specter of hurt is there on the actors' faces, and it's a large part of the story. It's not lost on me that I'm not much younger than the characters as I write this, and have dealt with this problem. A sobering tale once you dig into the themes.

All said and done, The Ritual is the first A on horror's report card for 2018, and if you're a fan of The Wicker Man crossed with the worst road trip imaginable and just a pinch of Lovecraft, you'll dig it.

The Ritual is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: High Strung (and some info about the future of the Haunted Drive-in)

Now this is unusual, isn't it? I said I'd be back next month, and here I am! I'm sure anyone who's followed this blog for longer than a few days expected me to write my next post sometime in October 2018. I can't say I blame you, I've never been one for consistent updates.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Pumpkin Song Must Be Preserved

As Mischief Night draws to a close and Halloween 2017 gears up, I find myself doing what I always do this time of year: scrambling to finish my annual watchlist before midnight tomorrow.

"Hurry up, hurry up! We've got 32 hours of horror movies to watch and only 27 hours to do it!"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: The WNUF Halloween Special

I've mentioned before how Halloween, more than any other major holiday (JUST beating out Christmas), seems to practically run on nostalgia. So much of what we love about October 31st is wrapped up in the experiences we've already had, the candy we received last year or the haunted house we walked through a decade ago. And of course, the cheesy TV specials that have became a ritual of required viewing every season, cartoons and grisly horror and quaint old commercials for shampoo and fast food and department stores that no longer exist. Turns out, the people behind tonight's movie also recognize the power of memories. Let's dive into the WNUF Halloween Special.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My First Halloween Mood Table!

Although a fairly recent tradition at 10 years old, Halloween Mood Tables have captured the imagination of monster kids everywhere. Created by Madd Matt back in 2007, the concept is simple: designate a spot in your home and make it Halloween Headquarters. It can be an end table, a dining room table, a coffee table, or even a folding chair. Some people have utilized setups as primitive as a two-by-four over cinder blocks. Whatever the base, it just needs to be a spot that makes you happy and screams "HALLOWEEN" to all who see it. Basically, it's a Christmas tree for October 31st.

There's no right or wrong way to put one of these together. Every Halloween Mood Table is personal and made for and by its owner. Mine includes Ghostbusters Funko Pops, LEGO minifigures, and activity books from when I was a kid. Others might have a place for candy, a pumpkin, or more elaborate dioramas illustrating horror movie scenes. Madd Matt has offered some basic tips, if you're interested in crafting one yourself: Illumination is effective, choose things that matter to you and say "this is Halloween" and of course, enjoy yourself. You can theme it, or let it be a (monster) mash of different things. Go wild and get creative!

While always an avid celebrator of Halloween, I had never done an HMT. Over the last few years, it's really taken off, with hundreds of people putting together their own ghastly shrines. Even a couple celebrities have gotten in on the creepy fun. So, what with this being the 10th year since its inception and having a nice large dining table I never use, now seemed like the perfect time to join in.

Here's a look at my Halloween Mood Table for this year. Some of the best bits: 

1. The one-eyed skeleton candle holder with the color-changing eye.

2. The Pennywhistle Halloween Book. The bible of Halloween celebrations and required reading every year.

3. LEGO trick-or-treaters with their own pumpkin pails.

Here's another peek at it in this quick video (warning and apologies, the quality is non-existent. My computer lied to me):

Again, all credit goes to Madd Matt for his brilliant idea and for sharing it with the world. Find more great stuff at his website by clicking here. and from there, you can find his excellent Youtube and Facebook pages too! In the meantime, if you've got a Halloween Mood Table, we wanna see it! Post pics in the comments or tweet them at us!