5/10 Sloppy writing, a waste of good acting
Leah is a young metal head with an interest in the occult. When her relationship with her mother frays more than she can bear, she performs a ritual to summon the Pyewacket, a creature tasked with killing Leah’s mother.
Story and Characters
The core idea is simple enough; a young teen can’t stand her mother anymore and summons a creature to dispose of her. Other subplots circle our main character, Leah, but one of the problems is that these don’t support the main story; they distract from it. And none of these extra bits have any payoff. And the main story? It waits until the end to establish any of the rules for the monster but then doesn’t follow its own established rules. And the ending is groan-inducing.
The characters that fill the many pointless scenes lack development. There’s the young man that Leah has a crush on, and he seems to share her feelings (as seen in multiple scenes of them giggling at each other), but this is his one character trait. Leah’s best friend Janice is one of the only characters with personality, but after being mysteriously spooked by the Pyewacket, she goes home and leaves the story altogether. This dropping of stories without payoff is a common problem with this movie. As for the mother herself, she flip-flops between a loving parent and monstrously abusive. She could have a genuine mental health issue, but it never comes up. The acting is better than this script deserves.
Writing and Directing
Shock; it was written and directed by one person. The writing is certainly worse than the directing. The film has few real stories (and few developed characters), so you’d think it would at least be economical with its scenes, but we get a deluge of chopped up scenes in the first third or so of the movie, none of which give us much information. What could be done in a single, good scene, this film does in several, brief, shallow scenes. And as mentioned, subplots and characters are dropped without having done anything with them. The directing is mostly solid. But at times, primarily during the climax, the stylistic effects get a little overbearing.
It’s not a terrible movie. There are some good scenes, and when the Pyewacket actually participates in the movie, it’s an interesting monster (despite being incredibly vague). But the script is the weakest link holding everything else back. For everything good the movie does, the script takes it back down a notch.
7/10 Great atmosphere and a good twist on forest-monster horror
Four men go on a hiking trip to honor the memory of a friend who was killed in a robbery. When they try to take a shortcut through the Swedish woods, they are beset by nightmares and something stalking them in the darkness.
Story and Characters
The story seems simple enough for most of the runtime; it’s a typical forest-monster movie with a small group of cannon fodder. And then it suddenly turns into a different movie with revelations that elevate it far above the typical forest-monster story. The twist works really well, and the build-up is excellent. In general, the pacing is solid throughout, and the rising tension and atmosphere are perfect.
Our characters, what few we have, feel 3-dimensional, though only two of them have much depth. The movie at least creates an effective illusion that they all have backstories and motivations. Still, if the other two men had the same development as Luke and Dom, it would have been much stronger. Still, the acting is well-done; they’re convincing as friends who’ve known each other for years whose relationships are being put to the test.
Writing and Directing
The movie is mostly dialogue, as the action doesn’t start for a good while. But the dialogue, and the acting that carries it, is engaging and easily carries the movie until the action starts. The tension between the characters is handled just as well as the tension around them as they go deeper into the dark and mysterious woods. There is, however, one problem I do have. In many horror movies, if one main character is established as a POV character but the others are just satellite characters orbiting our protagonist, it’s a clear sign that this one character will survive and the others are most likely just there for the body count. The Ritual suffers from this too, since as mentioned, not all of the characters are as well-developed. And there’s only four of them. I have to assume the novel had a better balance of these characters so the deaths have weight to them, but it’s certainly a flaw in the film. The directing, though, is spot on. The dread builds in long shots of the woods, and the monster itself has a presence long before we see it.
I do enjoy the movie, and the monster is great. But the problem with the characters bothers me. It was so close to avoiding all the pitfalls of monster movies, but it couldn’t escape the obvious surviving hero and the redshirts. Still, everything is so well-done that I have no problem coming back to this one. And I fully intend to read the book.