Some of the greatest horror films found life in the pages of a book first. The Exorcist, Jaws, and The Shining to name a few. Some say that the movie will never do the book justice (I’m one of them), but occasionally, screenwriters and directors adapt the original stories into visual masterpieces that are so horrifying they fuel the nightmares of generations. In this piece, we will review the story then discuss the differences between the page and the screen and decide which one is the better storyteller.
A word of warning: Spoilers.
In this edition: Adam Nevill’s The Ritual vs. Netflix’s adaptation.
Four friends go on holiday to hike in Sweden. When one of the guys gets hurt, they look for a short cut through an ancient forest. Poor choice. They come across an abandoned building and decide to seek shelter from the unrelenting rain. They aren’t alone. There is some kind of altar to something unfamiliar. After a fitful sleep full of nightmares, they set off to find a way out, but it seems the forest has different plans. Something is tracking them and begins to pick them off one-by-one.
The tension Nevill creates is palpable from the first page. The weather, the conflict between friends, the terrain the guys are crossing are all described in a way to create a feeling of claustrophobia. It is obvious from the beginning, this is not going to end well. It follows the four friends: Luke, Hutch, Phil, and Dom on their trek through the Swedish wilderness. Dom is hurt and struggling, Luke is in a foul mood, and Hutch is trying to keep the band together. They come across an animal strung high in a tree freshly gutted. Once they get to the dilapidated building and rest for the night, the dreams each have are vivid and ominous. Hutch goes missing in the night but is soon found strung up the same way as the animal the day before. Phil is next to go and as Dom and Luke attempt to forge south through to the forest’s end, Luke finds himself completely alone. That is until he wakes up in another old structure surrounded by figures in animal masks. Behind the masks… a Swedish Black Metal band.
Yes, you read that right. A Black Metal band is shacked up out in the middle of the Swedish wilderness. They are aware of what is going on in the woods. A beast older than recorded history they call Modor. An old woman lives with the band and she is the one that can call it. The band plans to sacrifice Luke to the beast thinking that doing so will bestow upon them ancient power. The old woman has different plans. After a failure to summon the creature, the crone helps facilitate Luke’s escape. It appears that she wished to be free of the band also, but the thing in the forest doesn’t want anyone to leave.
This story begins with five mates. When one is murdered during a convenience store robbery, the other four decide to go hiking in Sweden to memorialize him. This creates conflict earlier and in a more concrete way than the book did. It seems that the other guys place a little blame on Luke for their friend’s fate as it was his idea to go into the store in the first place. Dom twists his knee, and they decide to take the shortcut through uncharted territory. We don’t see what the other fellas dream, only Luke’s flashbacks to the night of the robbery.
The next difference is both Luke and Dom make it to the old farmhouse. Only this time, it’s not a Black Metal band. It is an ancient village that worships the creature and provides sacrifices for eternal life. We also get a little more back story on what the beast is, an offspring of Loki. During his stay in the first house, Luke was marked with deep gouges in his chest. Other people in the village were marked the same way. This is to show that Luke may stay with the village and live forever. He has different ideas. Pulling the old “dislocate my thumb to slip my bindings” trick, Luke begins his escape. Before he leaves, he is forced upstairs where he finds the village elders looking like a family of Cryptkeepers. With the building on fire, the beast comes back and begins to kill the followers. With the village in flames, the beast attempts to force Luke to worship it but he refuses and makes it to the forest’s edge.
And the winner is… a draw. I loved the book. Nevill is amazing at creating tension and making readers feel his environments. The pacing was smooth with short chapters making the slow, arduous trek through the wild move quickly. I would have awarded the title to the book outright, except for the Black Metal part. Personally, it didn’t work for me. I would have rather had the story of the ancient society and the beast of the woods. That’s where the movie wins. That and the creature design. With a history rich in the lore of Scandinavia, the story could have delved a bit deeper into that.
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