Setup, Reminder, and Payoff: A Case Study of The Ritual

the ritual horror film movie writing story plotHi, bats, ghouls, and spirits! I wanted to give some brief thoughts on a film I saw a few weeks back, particularly a specific aspect I keep thinking about. David Bruckner’s The Ritual is a solid horror movie about a group of friends going into the woods as strange events occur. It is a film best seen without reading much on it, so if you haven’t seen it, I would recommend doing so because I will mostly be writing about the ending. Many will compare this to The Blair Witch Project, though it at times reminded me more of Evil Dead.

Overall, I thought the film was good, and it was the first good movie I saw in 2018, and the first decent Netflix original horror offering of 2018 (after such films like The Open House and The Cloverfield Paradox). There were great camera choices, especially the use of slow zoom ins, though I felt as if the script could have been stronger in some parts. I will speak about the story concepts of setup, reminder, and payoff, with regards to a plot line in the film. If you haven’t seen the movie, I would recommend not reading the rest of this post because I will go into details that are not revealed until the last thirty minutes of the film. (And really, even the opening is a tad of a spoiler.)

So, SPOILERS below.

Essentially, the internal and external conflicts of The Ritual are clear. The protagonist, Luke, is riddled with guilt over hiding as his friend was robbed and murdered in the film’s opening. This causes tension with the rest of the friends, but to commemorate their friend, they go on a trip together in a vast stretch of North European woods. The external conflict kicks in when they are stalked by a monster named Moder, an illegitimate daughter of Loki. Throughout the film, Moder messes with the characters’ minds by making them see visions. Luke, in particular, sees his bleeding friend on the ground, dying.

While I can see the structure in place, the screenplay needed a bit of work, mostly during the climactic scene when Luke confronts Moder and refuses to kneel, even when Moder keeps shoving him down; essentially, he’s all but handed the opportunity to surrender, but he chooses to make a stand, the stand he couldn’t make when his deceased friend was threatened. I understand what the writer was going for; after essentially being too frightened to stand up and help his friend, which resulted in his death, Luke refuses to give in. He completes his character arc. I get that, and it’s poignant.

I wouldn’t necessarily change that, but the payoff could have been bigger, in my opinion, if the film continued with the imagery associated with his guilt about his friend’s murder. As I mentioned, throughout the film, Luke sees his friend on the store floor, bleeding and dying. I think it would perhaps have been prudent in the climactic scene to have the monster take the form of his friend as it had in illusions throughout the rest of the movie, and similarly to how Dom, one of the friends, saw the monster in the form of his wife throughout the movie, first mentioning it and then having this visually culminate prior to his death. Since the image of his murdered friend occurs visually throughout the film to physicalize Luke’s guilt, it feels prudent to carry it throughout the entire film; this is especially given that the film is meticulous in ensuring this image is important by showing it more than once.

To me, this would have better rounded out the resolution of the internal and external conflicts, though again, I see what was intended, and my vision isn’t the same as Bruckner’s. However, I have seen other viewers state they found the ending to be satisfactory, and I personally don’t think this is because the film let certain issues fall to the wayside, but rather that the payoff didn’t quite as strongly combine the external and internal conflict as much as it could’ve for an effective and strong climax.

Have you seen The Ritual? Did you like the ending?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *