Movie Review - Ritual
Mickey Keating's 2013 film Ritual feels like a timeless homage to the visionaries who inspired him. With nods to John Carpenter and David Lynch, the director relies as heavily on creating the atmosphere as he does on telling the story. And with a vast array of visual nods to genre pieces ranging from the 1950's until the year 2000, the result is an extremely enjoyable film, if perhaps, a bit uneven.
The movie opens on a 1950's-era sunny beach, with Lovely (Lisa Marie Summerscales) meeting Tom (Dean Cates) for the first time. As the two flirt, the scene slowly fades, along with the sunny carefree feeling of the opening, as foreboding music swells and the credits begin to roll. Even the opening credits seem like an homage to John Carpenter's 1978 classic, with the mask of the killer slowly fading in from darkness like the pumpkin from Halloween. Although judging by the style of the mask that the director chose and the tone of the music he went with, I would say he is as much a fan of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, as he is the original. The score truly had some amazingly 'Alan Howarth' moments. At the close of the credits, we hear in voiceover, a phone call between Tom and Lovely, in which a desperate Lovely pleads with him for help. As it fades out we see Tom in his car, listening to the old 50's and 60's style horror themed radio programs. As we then begin tracking the car from outside, we can see nothing but the immediate space in front of the car lit by the headlights. It is in the pitch black night of South Texas and the darkness feels oppressive in the way it surrounds and swallows the light from the vehicle. And in a David Lynch-esque visual cue, when Tom turns off of the road, the camera continues forward without him, leading us forward into the dark.
When Tom arrives at the motel, Lovely informs him that she had accompanied a man back to his room for a drink, but when she refused his advances, he got violent with her. In the struggle between the two Lovely ended up stabbing the man several times. He is lying motionless on the floor. They are unsure if he is alive or dead. Tom wants to call the police but she convinces him not to. The following exposition feels a tiny bit long-winded, and the dialogue revealing that Tom and Lovely are married, even though relevant, feels a bit forced. Then suddenly, the pace of the film begins to pick up. As the couple try to figure out who the man is, they find a video camera in the trunk of his car. After watching the tape, they learn of the man's true intentions to drug Lovely and use her as a human sacrifice in a Satanic Ritual. Afraid they will both be targeted, the couple flee the motel only to realize that Tom left something behind which could identify him, and that they will have to go back. It is then that they finally come face to face with the remaining members of the cult.
The acting was solid all the way around, primarily by leading lady Lisa Marie Summerscales. She creates a character in Lovely that sits somewhere in between the traditional 'girl in a horror movie' victim and the stronger female leads who keep fighting throughout the movie (like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, or more recently, Sharni Vinson in You're Next). Even though she has plenty of moments where she seems helpless, she also stomps her high heel through a cult members skull. The balance works perfectly within the tone of the film as a whole.
I really found so much to like about this movie. I really want to give credit to the film makers here for doing something right that other recent films (like V/H/S) have gotten horribly wrong: they made the scenes 'shot on VHS' look like they were shot on VHS. It seems like such and obvious thing, but it makes all the difference. In fact, just about the only thing that didn't work for me was the change in perspective from the main characters to two strangers in the car in the final act. I wouldn't say it was out of place in the film, though I didn't think it added anything to the ending and I felt like it was a bit of overkill. But overall the ominous tone that Keating is able to create through bold visual choices, excellent use of a perfectly fitting score, a wonderfully desolate Motel as the setting, and strong performances by the cast, is what makes this film worth recommending.
- Leo Francis