Book vs. Film: 'The Ritual'

Spoilers for The Ritual (both the novel and film adaptation) follow. You've been warned.

The Ritual tells the very original story of a bunch of white guys getting lost in the woods and consequently murdered. A Predator-esque monster hunts them down, one by one, slaughtering its prey with the utmost brutality. Why are they in the woods? Well, they’re going hiking, of course! Do they have hiking experience? Well...not exactly. And why is it they get lost, again? Because of reasons, that’s why.

Adam Nevill’s novel, originally published by Pan Macmillan in 2011, has been on my to-read list for several years now. I’ve often discovered it included on “Best Modern Horror Novels” lists, but for whatever reason held off on tackling it. In anticipation of the recent film adaptation, I figured now was as good a time as any. While I found the novel’s initial premise pretty stale, Nevill managed to win me over with his superb sense of tension. My fingers cramped from gripping the paperback too tight. In addition to this, the story carries a nice touch of the Weird throughout, hinting at something far more sinister than what’s being delivered.

It was during the novel’s apparently controversial second half I became a diehard fan.

However, it was during the novel’s apparently controversial second half I became a diehard fan. Halfway through The Ritual, after fleeing for days from a terrifying monster, the last hiker alive finds himself suddenly held hostage by a teenaged black metal band. Apparently these kids have been awaiting his arrival, hoping to use him as a sacrifice involving the summoning of motherfucking Odin. It is such a left-turn, I thought I was suffering a brain hemorrhage at first, and I can understand why certain readers hated this new direction, but personally I loved it. A plot twist of this caliber took massive balls to pull off, and Nevill’s balls might be the biggest I’ve ever seen. And trust me—I look in the mirror every day, so I know big balls when I see them.

Now, the film adaptation also has its merits. Directed by David Bruckner (of the very excellent The Signal) and released by NetFlix, it’s somewhat similar to the novel, save for a few critical changes. Right off the bat, we have an extra friend added to the mix. But don’t worry—he dies pretty much immediately. In fact, he’s the whole reason they even go hiking in the first place: to honor his memory. This differs from the novel, where they all wish to go on vacation together and hiking’s the only logical option given our protagonist’s budget (the other three friends are well-off, monetary-wise).

The major difference with the film, of course, comes with the second half. Our protagonist is indeed held hostage in a strange house somewhere in the woods, only this time instead of awesome black metal kids, we are greeted by a community of devil-worshipping stereotypes. Literally imagine a community of old satanists in your head and the result will be exactly what’s portrayed in the film. This specific plot change reeks of cowardice and definitely left a nasty taste in my mouth.

With that said, the film absolutely kicks ass when it comes to creature design. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a monster look so...well, cool. Seriously, look at this weird motherfucker and tell me it doesn’t give you a Guillermo del Toro-sized erection:

The film is not even close to a waste of time, and certain aspects even live up to the suspense implanted in its source material, but overall I was left slightly disappointed. Mostly due to the omission of the black metal band. Add them and you have yourself a significantly improved movie.

And if you haven’t read Nevill’s novel, what are you waiting for? Snag a copy pronto and go get lost in the woods. For, you know, extra atmosphere and stuff.

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Max Booth III

Column by Max Booth III

Max Booth III is the CEO of Ghoulish Books, the host of the GHOULISH and Dog Ears podcasts, the co-founder of the Ghoulish Book Festival, and the author of several spooky books, including Abnormal Statistics, Maggots Screaming!, Touch the Night, and others. He wrote both the novella and film versions of We Need to Do Something, which was released by IFC Midnight in 2021 and can currently be streamed on Hulu. He was raised in Northwest Indiana and now lives in San Antonio.

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