So, I am a little behind the times.
The Ritual, a movie about four college friends reuniting to hike through Sweden and coming across an ancient, bloodthirsty creature, came out in February of this year. I even watched it six months ago when it initially came out, but before I sat down and did a proper review I knew I wanted to read the novel. Well, this past month I finally bought a copy of The Ritual by Adam Neville, and now that I’ve read it, it’s finally time to share my thoughts.
Brace yourself. They’re not very positive.
The Film Adaptation
When the film came out earlier this year, everyone started recommending it to me. Everyone who watched it said it was new and unique and amazing and that I just had to watch it. I would love it! Well, I’ve never been one to shy away from a horror film, so I cracked open a beer and queued it up.
If you’re not familiar with the film, I’ll give a brief synopsis. Four college friends reunite to go on a hike through the Swedish wilderness to honor their friend, Robert, who died a few months beforehand in a liquor store robbery. One of the friends, Luke, was in the store when it happened and did nothing so there’s some lingering resentment from the other three toward Luke. On the hike, they decide to take a shortcut and end up lost in a forest inhabited by an ancient god that is desperate for sacrifices and picks the men off one by one. Luke ends up stumbling across a small village of people in the forest who worship the entity, a bastard offspring of the Norse god, Loki, and manages to escape before they sacrifice him to the creature.
Even just writing that, the story sounds amazing. Lost in the forest with some creepy beast stealing your friends away and stringing them up in trees sounds like the recipe for an amazing horror story. Except, whoever the hell mixed up the ingredients for this movie put in way too much “men lost and complaining in the woods” and not enough “cool monster” and “creepy cult.”
The movie was incredibly unbalanced in my opinion. We spent way, way too much time following the four friends getting lost in the woods. It’s boring and overdone. I’ve already read that story, I’ve already watched that movie. Hell, I’ve fucking lived that story myself one time when I got too drunk on a camping trip.
Also, as a woman, I could not even remotely relate to the characters, Dom, Phil, Hutch, and Luke. All they seemed to focus on was being the most masculine and the conflict was completely based on miscommunication and toxic masculinity.
Boo. Boring and overdone.
The movie really got interested when the monster actually showed its face. I remember squealing when it came on screen, as if it were some cute kitten or baby bunny that had appeared. Amazing design. Loved the monster. Unfortunately, the monster was on screen for maybe a quarter of the movie. I was way more invested in it and the cult that worshiped it than I was in the four male characters and it barely got a part in the movie. I was thoroughly disappointed. A cool movie with so much potential that just didn’t follow through.
Reading the Novel
After I was disappointed by the movie, I found out it was based on a book!
Great, I thought to myself. The novel must spend more time focusing on the cult and the monster than the movie did. Movies more often than not cut out major scenes to keep the film short. I need to buy it and read it so I can finally hear more about my sweet, baby monster.
Nope, I was so very wrong .
The book was even more unbalanced than the movie was. In total, the book was a little over 400 pages and we only ever got small glimpses of the monster. Also, it wasn’t until around page 260 that the cult even came into the story.
Oh, and it wasn’t a cult. It was three metal-head teenagers with authority-issues looking to spill blood. Loki and Fenris, the two young men who made up the band Blood Frenzy, had heard stories about the beast living in the woods and came to worship it while at the same time desecrating ancient churches and other modern religious altars.
While that sounds interesting, Loki, Fenris, and their other friend, Surtr, were boring and one dimensional, basic metalhead stereotypes. They reminded me of the bad kids in an after school special about peer pressure and satanism.
I had issues with all three of these metalhead younglings, but my biggest issue with the book was with Surtr, one of only two women featured in the book.
Women in The Ritual
Let’s talk about Surtr.
In the novel, Surtr was, as far as I could tell, a groupie of Blood Frenzy and Loki’s psychotic girlfriend. Although her age was never stated, based on Luke’s pondering of whether these delinquents would even get tried as adults, I’d guess she was between 16 and 20 years old, which honestly makes the last third of the book creepy for an entirely different reason.
Surtr, whose number of speaking lines I can count on one hand, was described as a short, overweight woman with with black hair. Pretty vague, right? Well, thankfully, the author doesn’t stop there! We also get to hear all about how plump and pendulous her breasts are as she runs around the forest naked and how sebaceous and creamy her vagina smells while she pins Luke down.
That’s it, that’s all we get for physical characterization. And as for her personality, well all we know is that she’s incredibly violent, unstable, and wants to cut Luke’s toes off for no reason other than her sadistic streak. Surtr is basically a wild animal, thrown into the narrative for no good reason other than to provide an opportunity to use insults like “fat bitch” and “ugly cow.”
As a lover of horror and a grown ass woman, I have no issue with that type of language or misogyny. This isn’t kindergarten and I don’t expect authors to pull punches to spare my feelings, especially when they’re talking about a character in life or death situations. However, in The Ritual it was absolutely pointless because Surtr was absolutely pointless. The story started off very male-focused and I was fine with that, until the author brought in a female character and demonstrated how little he cared about her.
Surtr was my main issue with this section of the book, but after the author included a line describing the smell of her vagina, I started noticing other little things that just pissed me off. The old woman who lived in the house and was the descendent of the creature in the woods was one hundred percent a horror stereotype. Old women, living in the woods alone practicing ancient magic? Been there, done that.
However, that stereotype took on a whole new light when I read that description of Surtr. I remember thinking, “oh, he just doesn’t know how to write women at all. Awesome.”
And then, the old woman called the creature in the forest “moder,” which means mother.
So now even the monster is feminine, which means in the last twenty or so pages of the book, Luke is exclusively fighting against feminine entities. He’s fighting Surtr and the old woman and now the ancient mother of the forest.
As a woman reading this, I was even less thrilled than I was in the beginning. Obviously, the author has some issues with women that he unknowingly unloaded into this novel. I felt alienated reading it and only finished it because the hidden misogyny only started popping up when I was almost done. When I’m less than 200 pages away from finishing a book, it takes a lot for me to not finish it.
That, and I really wanted to write this post criticizing it and the only way I could be seen as a credible critic was to finish it.
My final thoughts: 0/10, boring, misogynistic, was rooting for the monster to win.