The Ritual ★★★½

'The Wicker Man' (1973), 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999), and 'The Descent' (2005) are worthy genre touchstones from which to draw, but what makes David Bruckner’s 'The Ritual' so effective has less to do with the way it syncretizes its forerunners than with its moody, harrowing execution of a straightforward premise. During a backpacking trip through the Swedish wilds, four British men lose their way, eventually realizing that they are being stalked by a horrific entity out of pagan legend. Bruckner and Joe Barton’s screenplay provide craven, guilt-wracked protagonist Luke (Rafe Spall) with just enough backstory to lend anguished resonance to the film’s muddling of personal and literal demons. This touch of characterization adds a surreal element to what is essentially a primal monster-in-the-woods scenario. 'The Ritual' adeptly establishes an oppressively doom-rich atmosphere, and then proceeds to pitilessly slash into the viewer’s subconscious with some genuinely chilling, uncanny horror imagery – a particularly estimable feat given the film’s modest effects budget.

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