Main characters of The Ritual, Netflix film.

The Ritual, A Netflix Horror Gem

The Netflix original film The Ritual, based on Adam Nevill’s 2011 namesake novel, is a must-watch for connoisseurs of horror. Especially my breed of horror fan, trolling the depths of Netflix like a starving bottom-feeder for quality horror films.

I decided to illustrate how amazing The Ritual is by way of contrast. I will tell you the common folks-lost-in-woods horror tropes that David Bruckner’s film does not resort to. And in fact, breathes new life into.

No spoilers, either.

Meeting Characters Without Cheeseball Grabass

Bruckner establishes his use of economy, seriousness, and respect for his audience’s intelligence within the first five minutes. We get our main character Luke, and his three mates, Phil, Hutch, and Dom, talking about this year’s guys-getaway over a pint. Further, the traumatic event that serves as Luke’s backstory, also occurs at act one’s starting gate.

No corny-ass young couples! What a relief.

In my opinion, more horror script writers should have either all male or all female casts, or to put it in an LGBQT+-friendly way, an all platonic ensemble. This lends films a more serious atmosphere since sex is off the table. More fruitful soil for real terror.

Directors almost always rely on exploiting women with raunchy jokes and having the couples play grab-ass for the first half hour. The cheap characterization makes my unintentional B-movie radar ding.

The Ritual does not.

There Is Not One Single Forced Jump Scare

Thanks to the cinematography, the tension is real.

Shots of stark trees linger, causing the mind to start conjuring things moving between them. They also portray the vastness of the landscapes in an emotionally resonant way. The long frames are refreshing in the found-footage and shaky-first-person saturated sub-genre of lost-in-woods/witchcraft horror.

Bruckner doesn’t rely on quick cuts to disorient the audience. Nor does he rely on background music. The first time we partially see the creature stalking the four gents, the shot lasts around a minute, the tension roiling around in the viewer’s guts.

A sidelong glance into the thin trees, a loud bout of silence. Fingers wrap around one of the trees, and your mind screams “THERE, I SEE SOMETHING–WAIT, WHY AREN’T THE FINGERS MOVING, DID THE FILM FREEZE? DOES THE CREATURE KNOW I ALMOST SEE HIM?” More silence. More stillness. Then the body the fingers belong to sweeps across your view, takings its time.

You feel almost like a voyeur getting caught on its territory, a sensation of terror only the best cosmic horror can illicit.

I was left as unsettled as Luke, the scene’s POV character.

Questions Answered/Monster Seen

Many creature-features and witchcraft films struggle with a balancing act of these three things:

  1. The audience wants to know the monster’s 5 Ws
  2. We want everything that gets set up to pay off
  3.  Viewers want to see the monster–we don’t want to dance with shadows, but we also don’t want overexposure

The Blair Witch Project worked because of its originality. People granted them leeway with this balancing act because the tropes and cliches hadn’t been bludgeoned to death yet, necessitating the balance.

You boil Blair Witch down to its essence and you get: vague witchcraft happenings and kids scared about it.

The Ritual begins its third act with a well-executed explanation of all the things, as the kids say.

The witchcraft has been substantive throughout the film. Now you understand the 5 Ws of the creature. The time with it on the screen is also meaningful for Luke’s character arc, which elevates the creature’s visual presence above mere scare-bait.

Other films simply rely on vague creeps. Explaining this without describing the plot is tough, but trust me. The 3-point balance is achieved, leaving the audience satisfied.

Go Watch The Ritual & Perhaps Read The Novel

This isn’t your average horror film. A number of the overused tropes seen in so many movies in the genre-at-large, as well as the sub-genres The Ritual falls into, are reinvigorated here. The result is a damn good movie, and an emotionally wrought experience.

The Novel

The Trailer

image of Before I wake

Recommended Netflix Original Movie: Before I Wake (No Spoilers)

Netflix produces some strong original content in the horror genre, both for television and film. I watch so many horror movies on Netflix, they tend to bleed together. The tropes, the characters and their motivations, and even the settings, for example, don’t always stick out in the crowd.

I think atmosphere is another area–maybe the most common, in fact–where horror directors, albeit due to genre conventions, are going for the same effects. Claustrophobia, terror, the unnatural… In Before I Wake, director Mike Flanagan sets his film apart by introducing true human sadness, portrayed effortlessly by Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane and the uber-talented child actor Jacob Tremblay.

The word literary comes to mind when I consider this movie. The film works much like some of the best horror literature does: things start off normal and rather beautiful, and then descend into chaos and terror. I rarely even stream movies with a PG-13 rating because I assume it’ll be a typical made-for-theaters-and-teens thriller that Hollywood pumps out.

The PG-13 rating works in Before I Wake. 

Maybe the perceived lack of profanity and violence the rating implies softened me up for genuinely lovable characters and their story. Flanagan sets up the characters and the delightful supernatural/magical realist elements with grace. The more expected horror elements are also deep-seated in character, and are genuinely disturbing as opposed to cheap jump scares. The juxtaposition of beauty and horror (which I assure you is terrifying for parents) dazzles here.

I’ll say that the premise and “twist” at the end are magnificent and emotionally resonant. The idea of dreams and nightmares come to life isn’t original in the literal sense, but Before I Wake makes it feel fresh and executes it sublimely. This movie put me into a pretty passive, trusting state, so I can’t say that I tried to figure out what the IMDB reviewers meant by “amazing twist” as I watched, but I promise it’s breath-taking. It isn’t the mind-blowing, world-overturning twist that people tend to imagine. Instead, it’s a tear-jerker and a perfect illustration of the innocence of children. That’s coming from a cynical, crappy horror film-jaded person.

I saw some reviewers complain about certain plot points not making sense or nitpicking on some of the film’s minutiae. But I encourage you to watch Before I Wake with the mindset of a child. Or at least the warm amber simplicity of the childhood lens you think back to when “adulting” really sucks. Allow yourself to spend some time in a place where things can be magical and terrifying.




Recommendation: Unacknowledged, a documentary on Netflix

Unacknowledged is a documentary film centered on Project Disclosure and its founder Dr. Steven M. Greer. Ostensibly, this film is about the UFO, or UAP (unidentified aerial phenomenon) as John Podesta and other Washington insiders now refer to it and extraterrestrial visitations. The claims are backed by witness testimony and interviews from former officials and experts, as well as overwhelming amounts of declassified documentation from within the military industrial complex (MIC).

The film provides perspective on power in Washington

The film is more important as an expose on the power of the MIC. For instance, a motif in the film is that the most powerful people, from presidents to four-star generals are denied access to this information because they are not deemed “need-to-know.” The MIC running Black Budget operations with the corporations that manufacture the technologies of war and aviation are the ones truly seated in power. A few powerful names on the list of people denied entry into the exclusive “Know” include the following presidents:

  • JFK
  • Reagan
  • Carter
  • Clinton
  • Obama

Unacknowledged makes conspiracy theorists look good

I appreciated what this film did for the poor public image that a lot of conspiracy theorists suffer from. That is, we are dismissed as kooks who label the Government, in its entirety, as the perpetrators of certain conspiracies. As if it were possible or fair to lump the millions of federal employees or corporate employees as one boogeyman. An equivalent would be people who rage against the “1%” as if it were a secret society. A unique quality of this film is that it addresses specific though technically anonymous players in the conspiracy, and in fact tells its audience that presidents, senators, and members of congress, aren’t out to get you… at least not in this situation, anyway.

Some of the most thought-provoking evidence that Dr. Steven Greer presents documents CIA psychological warfare operations (Psy-Ops) on the American public.  Two topics alluded to in the film that I use in my own fiction are predictive programming and false flag operations. Here’s a brief explanation of the two concepts:

  • Predictive programming is when the media, like news, Hollywood, literature, are all used to desensitize the mass public to an idea. The point being that when the idea comes true it’s almost expected.
  • False flag operations are when governments attack themselves in order to then garner support from the masses of their country in rage against a common enemy.

The big(gest) question

The film poses the question of whether or not the Deep State and MIC is holding extraterrestrial disclosure close to the vest because it’s their ultimate false flag event. After all, sources in the film state that Black Budget military operations involving the advancement of aviation technologies have progressed at least fifty years beyond what the public is told. They fake an alien invasion either to cripple America and the world. Or in the aftermath of say, using politics to completely destabilize us and then faced with the threat of a chaotic World War Three, try to unite all of us around a common enemy: aliens!

For true believers in ET, hopeful that they’ll “come in peace,” the film makes the next point abundantly clear: the anti-gravity technology needed for interplanetary travel would be 40,000 times more advanced than the technology that gave us the atom bomb. Therefore if ET was hostile, we would’ve been blown to smithereens already, because destroying Earth would be equivalent to the difficulty a baby has stuffing a chubby little foot in its mouth for them.

Where you can watch Unacknowledged

Check out the trailer below. It’s available through this link for $4.00, but it is free on Netflix.