By Melissa Antoinette Garza
First and foremost, can we please stop calling movies, books and episodes of TV shows any of the above; RITUAL, A RITUAL or THE RITUAL. There’s like a billion of them! The one that I’m reviewing was distributed and produced by AFTER DARK in 2013.
The film begins when Tom (Dean Cates) rushes to the aid of his wife Lovely (Lisa Marie Summerscales) after receiving a phone call begging him to save her. He finds his wife at a small cheap motel with a dead man (Derek Phillips) on the floor. Lovely admits to killing him, but only for self-preservation. She shows him a video of men dressed in skull masks sacrificing a woman to their cult.
Tom is angry that his wife was at the motel, was sinning against God, and that he was now wrapped up in the mess. They try to escape multiple times, but the men in skull masks surround them intent on completing their mission.
RITUAL (2013) did a few things right and a lot of things wrong. The production was attempting to recreate the intensity of VACANCY (2007) utilizing a very similar plot. It also threw in elements of THE STRANGERS (2008) and THE PURGE (2012). That said, it failed to capture the excitement of those films.
To be fair, there are certain atmospheric moments. The desperate call as the film starts, a clown doll laughing eerily and the men in skull masks surrounding them in the dark are great examples of what RITUAL did right. In those few scenes, it captured what it wanted to. It was cool and scary and fun.
Sadly, the rest of the movie was muddled. The main characters were unsympathetic and essentially cardboard cutouts of Amy (Kate Beckinsale) and David Fox (Luke Wilson) of VACANCY. A broken couple at a bad motel trying to escape snuff filmmakers. The only difference is the motive. In VACANCY, the villain (Frank Whaley) was driven by money. Here the bad guys are in a cult and like to kill pretty women with blonde hair.
The writers attempt to give Lovely and Tom time to reconnect, but the chemistry between the two actors is DOA and therefore the audience has no investment in the characters.
Another issue is the music. The feature uses some odd upbeat musical choices which for a film like THE CONJURING (2013) could work. If the emotion one wants to invoke is the calm before the storm, something fun and light is the correct go-to. In that situation, the viewer knows the scares are coming so the tunes only add more trepidation. The slow burn is great.
One may point to the soft soundtrack in THE STRANGERS (2008), but there the music was utilized to emphasize the awkwardness between James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler). When the knock on the door comes, the tension created is enough to make one’s heart beat faster in trepidation.
RITUAL begins when Lovely is in trouble. The cult information comes quickly as does Tom’s understanding of the situation. The music doesn’t match the intended pace and therefore the tone never gets where it’s supposed to be. It had protentional and could have fared better if something similar to THE TERMINATOR (1984) was used. Songs like WE GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS PLACE (1965) and MAMA TOLD ME NOT TO COME (1970) would have been perfect if played in the background during the failed escape attempts. Understandably, the cost to use that music would be far more than the budget allowed. Still, the filmmakers could have sought out musicians on affordable websites like Fiverr or Song Freedom to have some songs and instrumentals created that work with their film rather than against it.
Overall, RITUAL was a disappointment. It had a promising trailer and a tried formula that has been successful in other productions. That said, despite Cates and Summerscales not having chemistry with one another, their acting was fine. Cates portrayed Tom’s outrage believably and Summerscales did a good job showing Lovely’s fear. Sadly, her fear didn’t translate to the viewer.
In honesty, nothing seemed to fit the way it should. Some of the visuals were great, but they didn’t lead to much. Some scenes had promise, but they were shot too dark to see what was happening. At first, I thought maybe it was just the television so I checked on both my laptop and TV upstairs to determine it was the actual movie.
All of that said, I think the filmmakers did have a vision, but it failed to make it clear. The writer/director has other movies that I intend to watch. Of them, POD (2015) seems the most interesting. The others I worry are trying too hard to be artistic instead of simply focusing on being good. I’ll still go in with an open mind on each, but I’m concerned. The trailers for DARLING (2015) and CARNAGE PARK (2016) scream faux-intellectualism and the premise to his upcoming thriller PSYCHOPATHS (2017) sounds like someone just saw PULP FICTION (1994) and decided to go full Tarantino. Both are paths many young filmmakers go on. I hope I’m wrong as I think Keating does have a voice and I’d love to see what he has to say rather than low-budget imitations of his favorite movies.
I can’t suggest this movie, but it only $5.99 to own it on AMAZON and free to watch if you have SHUDDER so if the mood to see something you haven’t seen before strikes you, it’s an inexpensive investment. Click Here to Buy
Scared Stiff Rating: 2.5/10