After receiving a distressed phone call, a man arrives at a seedy highway motel to find that his estranged wife has killed a stranger who is connected to a dangerous cult.
A married couple with a complicated relationship, a corpse, and a room at a less than reputable motel. It’s a classic formula for a horror movie that’s no doubt familiar for many genre fans. It’s also the set-up for Mickey Keating’s 2013 film, Ritual. Ritual is the 14th original film distributed by After Dark Originals. It stars Dean Cates (Pod) and Lisa Summerscales as married couple, Tom and Lovely. Additional costars include Derek Phillips (Serum), Brian Lally, and Katherine Skelton.
Ritual opens with a warning title card, promising plenty of violence to come. It then shifts to a beautifully filmed sequence that introduces us to Tom and Lovely when they first met. She’s soaking up the rays on the beach without a care in the world, he offers to light her cigarette for her, and all seems right with the world. Cut to years later. Tom and Lovely are still married, but are now more estranged than anything else.
However, Tom is still apparently the first person Lovely would call if she were really in a jam. We know this because she does exactly that after killing a man she picked up at a bar after the encounter took a violent turn for the worse in a motel room. When Tom arrives, the pair get to work covering up the incident. However, they discover a disturbing video tape in the dead man’s car during the process – the first of many frightening discoveries they’ll make over the course of the night. Tom and Lovely are about to find themselves caught in a web neither of them bargained for.
The way Ritual opens is intriguing to say the least, and it does a relatively good job delivering. Keating does an excellent job of cultivating suspense and helping it to build as Tom and Lovely’s circumstances become increasingly mysterious and perilous. (The haunting atmospheric musical score by Giona Ostinelli really adds to this, and is worth celebrating in its own right.)
Despite the fact that Ritual definitely leverages tropes any horror fan would be familiar with (e.g. couple in peril, possible cult, and seedy hotel room), it manages to remain original in its treatment of those tropes. The plotline is well thought out enough that it keeps you glued to the screen. It’s filled with genuine shocks and thoughtfully filmed sequences. It keeps the viewer guessing all the way to the end. Cates, Summerscales, and many of the supporting players turn in excellent performances as well.
The only real issue here is that certain portions of Ritual suffer from pacing issues. A driving sequence that goes on a little too long, a borderline unnecessary conversation through a door when Tom arrives to help Lovely, and a few similar scenes cause the otherwise lively pace of the film to slow way down at those points. There are also a few logic issues that leave viewers momentarily asking the wrong types of questions, especially toward the beginning of the film, but Ritual makes a great recovery once the action really gets underway.
Ritual is well done enough overall, that you can easily forgive it for having a few flaws. The more information you’re given about the truth of Tom and Lovely’s strange situation, the more you just really want to see how it all turns out. You genuinely enjoy the great majority of the ride to boot. So, is Ritual a perfect horror film that will go down in genre history as such? No. Is it appealingly entertaining and well worth your time? Absolutely, especially if you’re a fan of After Dark’s signature approach to horror.