I watched the Netflix movie The Ritual in Fall 2018 and absolutely adored it. Folk horror is one of my favorite horror movie genres because I think the mix of building paranoia, forests, miscommunication, and an ancient evil is fascinating. Unfortunately, ‘folk horror’ as a book genre is a bit more difficult to find. So, when I finally got to the book that inspired the movie I was delighted by how true to folk horror the book was.
The book begins with a daunting, out-of-place account that is jarring and exciting to read before we bleed back to the beginning of the book and meet our cast of characters – four university friends, nearing middle age, on a hiking trip in Scandinavia. However, age and family-life have seriously rattled two in the group, one is full of misdirected anger, and only the beloved Hutch can quell their squabbling and inspire wonder and happiness from the group.
However, they decide to take a short cut through an ancient, uncharted forest and this decision will push the four of them into madness and danger they could never fathom.
As the reader works through the forest and the fights amongst the four friends we pass by strange scenes in the woods. The deeper and more dangerous their journey becomes the more the macabre remains of old rites and pagan sacrifices; ancient artifacts and unidentifiable bones float out of the periphery and into the focus of the four. As the publisher writes, “A place of dark ritual and home to a bestial presence that is still present in the ancient forest, and now they’re the prey.”
In The Ritual there are 3 sections, in my mind at least:
- The Ritual
I found this a really interesting way for the plot to roll out and be revealed. It seems basic but it is kind of like a descent into madness. Although the development seems basic the twists and turns and how everything from the beginning connects to each harrowing, horrifying moment is stunning.
Although I would never go hiking, have no knowledge of it, and have never been to Scandinavian the description of the forest was so elemental and visceral I could actively picture it in my own mind despite having nothing personal to compare it to. Even more impressive the main character, Luke, is not the most likely narrator. In fact, I found myself saying “UGH! Really!?” to several of his actions but there is something incredibly relatable and human about this flawed character when, in many books, the main character would be the lovable, affable, peacekeeper Hutch.
There were some pacing issues in the third act that felt repetitive and like it could have been cut down by about 40-50 pages, however, the annoyance and lagging of this final act may be because the reader is so tense and ready to see The Ritual and also because the characters met at that point are some of the least likable, most putrid I’ve ever come across.
It was great to see a contemporary example of folk horror in the genre and I am definitely going to check out more Adam Nevill in the future. If you want a book that begins as a simple “creepy trip to the woods” and grows and manifests into so much more don’t hesitate to pick up The Ritual.