Taking a shortcut in a horror movie is always recipe for disaster. Especially when it is through a forest that just so happens to be haunted by a nordic God.
That’s exactly what happens in “The Ritual,” as four friends find themselves battling the supernatural as they just try to find their way through the trees and back to safety.
Based on Adam Nevill’s 2011 book of the same name, “The Ritual” is both evocative and increasingly haunting, but it isn’t completely faithful to its source material.
Recently I had the opportunity to talk to director David Bruckner about “The Ritual” over the phone, and he broke down why it was “not an easy book to adapt,” starting with the point that “the mediums are inherently different.”
“The experience of the book is very much in Luke’s head. The nature of the prose means that you could wander into that, his memories, and what he was like with these guys when they were younger.”
“That’s juxtaposed against the life and death survival that the guys are going through. The experience of the book oscillates back and forth between the memory of their friendship and their current experience.”
“To do that in the movie probably would have been too arthouse, and the momentum of the story would have been challenged by that amount of backstory.”
“So we set out to create an event on the front end of the movie that the audience could experience, then that would charge the group of friends with a similar problem.”
“The book was very much how Luke’s friends had lost faith in him and this was a different way to do it.”
Bruckner, who admits the influences on the film range from “Deliverance,” “Predator” and “Wicker Man” to Ben Wheatley and Steven Spielberg, made these alterations to make sure “that the narrative was always driving forward.”
But while that change worked wonders, not all of Bruckner’s suggestions were received so positively. Especially since he was an American trying to tell the story of four British friends lost in the woods.
Bruckner is the first to admit “there was something a culture gap.”
“I loved the banter of the script, the way that they joke amongst themselves. But I had a lot of help from the actors and producers developing it.”
“A lot of times I would come up with an idea and everyone would shake their heads at me, and say, ‘You can’t do that mate.’ I thought it was reasonable to rob a store with a cricket bat. They told me that would be funny in all of the wrong ways.”
Thankfully those involved involved in “The Ritual” were able to look past Bruckner’s indiscretion, and they soon put their full trust in him during production in Romania. Something that was needed as Bruckner insisted it was “very much a wilderness shoot.”
“We were removed from civilisation and in the elements. So it was physically and mentally challenging. The Romanian crew explained that area had more bears than anywhere else in the world, and that they were very active.”
“I didn’t actually see one, but footage kept on popping up on set every few days of them. It was useful for us. Because a little piece of me thought we were actually in danger, as it’s not something you are confronted with in civilized life.”
These conditions help to give “The Ritual” a very distinct and original feel, something that you can now check out for yourselves as the film is available on Netflix.