For those who’ve enjoyed the latest horror tales Netflix has to offer, The Ritual is one you’ve seen at least three times by now.
A harrowing tale of a group of friends having a lads’ holiday to honour one of their own.
Unfortunately, this story goes awry from the beginning. But like most good films, this one started as a novel.
Written by Adam Nevill in 2011, this suspense thriller is a different story than the film in almost every way that matters.
Like so many films, the production evolved into a separate tale that isn’t recognisable from the original work.
*Note – this comparison contains spoilers*
The film starts with Phil, Dom, Hutch, Luke, and Rob. They’re in a pub arguing over where to have their holiday.
Rob suggests hiking in Sweden and is shot down.
In under five minutes we’re treated to seeing the friends stumble out of the bar and into an off licence where Luke and Rob witness a robbery. Luke hides, and Rob is too afraid to move.
It costs him his life.
However, in the novel, there is no Rob.
The book is about the four friends as they hike along a Swedish mountain trail.
The stimulus that brings them to the wilds is different, but the setting eventually becomes the same.
In the film, they’re in the mountains and decide to make a path through the woods to get to their cabin. In both formats Dom hurts his leg (he’s just as insufferable in the book as he is in the film) and in both formats they discover mutilated animals hanging in the trees.
The setting is a tad darker in the book, as the woods are more foreboding.
The film keeps cutting to a slice of horror that Luke faced in the off licence, with flashbacks slowly meshing with reality.
The book has the scenery become surreal with the darkness of the woods crushing them from all directions, creating a sense of hopelessness.
The fear of becoming lost is quickly hammered home in the novel.
The middle part of the film is like the book, though made less by the fact that you cannot compete with an imagination running wild.
The cabin they hunker down in, filled with dark artifacts, is more ominous in the film. However, the pagan witch statue is just too damn creepy to ignore.
Hutch is the leader in both mediums and urges Luke to go on ahead of them to get help.
Well, this would’ve happened if the monster didn’t kill Hutch in the middle of the night, scattering the friends into the woods.
In the novel, Luke is taken by a group of teenagers to a remote lodging where an old woman works to create the witch statues. They prepare him for sacrifice, and the old woman eventually calls the beast upon him.
In the film, Dom and Luke are caught and the cultists want to have Luke join them. Dom is sacrificed to the beast.
The two merge once more as the beast murders some of its followers in a rage (in the book, one of the teenagers; the film, a few nameless followers) before it chases Luke into the woods.
This is where things diverge greatly.
In the film, the beast makes a point of forcing Luke to his knees to worship, with Luke refusing and injuring the beast before making a hasty retreat. The beast gives chase but stops at the borders of the woods.
In the novel, the beast is more of a goat monster with human arms and is fought off with a knife to the neck. Luke emerges from the woods after a disturbing chase scene and the weight of reality sets in: yes, his friends are dead, but Luke is alive.
The novel is, in a sense, darker than the film.
It plays on innate fears of the wilds and darkness, as well as superstition.
Yes, some of the descriptions rob us of the fear as we realise the beast is just a giant goat monster, but the suspense is almost choking in its intensity.
The film has a better grip of fear and awe, as the cultists reveal that they are effectively immortal beings that exit in emotional suffering at the behest of an ancient forest god.
Looking at either version of The Ritual to be better is foolish.
I put forth this idea: like with the Evil Dead remake, we take each as a separate telling of a similar tale.
The characters are similar, but with different twists of fate, each story is now different.
Neither one infringes on the other, nor takes any credence away from the other’s objective pros and cons.
They are simply different stories.
And what good stories they are!
The Ritual is still on Netflix.
I left out some important details, so you can still watch and enjoy.
The Ritual is also a damn fine read.
By Nicholas Paschall (@Nelfeshne)
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