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Monday, May 16, 2011

Rituals



Every once in a while the great white north of Canada gives us something to salivate over. Horror movies have never really been Canada's forte' but Rituals (aka The Creeper) in a real gem. The movie is about a group of five old doctor buddies who are out in the deep forests of Canada on a yearly get together and are stalked by an unknown man in the woods. Careful meticulous planning weeds them out until only one is left for the final confrontation. I'm not going to do like other bloggers and tell you the entire plot, just what I liked about it. The idea here is to make you want to SEE THIS MOVIE after all, not give away each and every plot point so you know what's up when you finally sit down to watch it. Have a look at the trailer for a quick taste:



People all over the internet seem to either praise this film highly (like I am in the process of doing), or deride it as a shitty cash-in/rip-off of Deliverance. FUCK Deliverance. Everybody mostly remembers that movie because a fat guy gets ass raped and John Voight get told he has a quote "Real Pretty Mouth". Yes both films take place in the woods, both feature stalking hillbilly(ies), and grown men stuck in an inescapable situation. I like this film quite a bit more for several reasons. Ready? Here goes:

There are no annoying teenagers! Nubile young folk getting killed in the woods is great and all but after you've seen it for the Nth time, meh who cares? Here instead we have five older men who have been through their own shit in life. Its nice to hear them talk about real things when sitting around a campfire and not "who has a crush on who and will inevitably get their head smashed in while having sex". This makes things for me more realistic and subdued. You see their capacity for rational thought erode piece by piece throughout the film rather than a sudden outburst of terror as they try to escape the inescapable.

Also, there is no damn summer camp and the resulting buildings. This means they have zero shelter as they trek through the forest leaving their tents where they stand all the while being pissed on with rain and frozen by night time temperature drops. Being exposed to the elements in total darkness in the unending Canadian forest is pretty frightening. Some people also feel that this film lacks tension. I wholeheartedly disagree on this point. By "tension" people mean edge of their seat can't wait to see what happens next sort of thing. The tension in this film is more the interpersonal tension between the main characters as the hopelessness of their situation slowly sinks in. I think this kind of tension is more well thought out and realistic that the usual slasher flick fare and as a result leaves this film sans the amount of credit it really deserves.

Hal Holbrook's performance is great in this film. Most of you will recognize him as Father Malone in John Carpenter's The Fog amongst other things, but he really takes the cake here. His past is only hinted at- former alcoholic, daredevil Korean War pilot, and you are given just enough about him to understand his inner turmoil. The other characters (all great Canadian actors also) each have their own issues, but are not quite as fleshed out as Holbrook's which is maybe the one complaint I have.

The woods/ river are just as much a character as anyone delivering lines. Many slasher movies use the woods as merely a setting for the action to take place, while Rituals on the other hand uses the landscape as a character in and of itself, impeding each and every movement the cast makes. There is paranoia, disorientation, and despair all in the environments the characters trudge across, and I think many viewers ignore this and only see the film's perceived shortcomings. The power and presence of nature is a scary thing and many urban folk are either unaware due to lack of experience or don't have the imagination to see this. Go camping in the forest and you will see what I mean.

The copy that I have reviewed from my personal collection is the Embassy Home Entertainment release from  1985. It runs roughly 90 some minutes (though the back of the box claims 100) and is rather cropped to fit the screen. From what I understand Embassy's print was copied from one intended for television, and as such a good 10 minutes or so (some of it character building, other bits "gore") unlike the extremely hard to find Canadian video release which features the full cut of the film. Just last month a Region 1 DVD finally came out, featuring the full version and slightly better picture and a helping of extras not to mention a proper aspect ratio. I will surely pick it up soon before they disappear and do a brief review on that too, so stay tuned.

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