|Review||Rituals (1977)||Director||Peter Carter|
|Cast||Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell, Ken James, Gary Reineke, Murray Westgate, Jack Creley and Michael Zenon|
“There’s a certain…unholy precision to this whole thing” – Marty
Five doctor friends, consisting of Harry (Holbrook), Mitzy (Dane), Marty (Gammell), Abel (James) and D.J. (Reineke), head into the deep forests in Ontario, Canada, for an annual get together. It’s so off the beaten track that they’re flown in so it’s a long way back to civilization. On their first night out it’s clear someone’s watching them and the next day all of their boots are missing. D.J. heads alone for a dam as he thinks there will be people there working. The next night a deer carcass is left near the campsite with a snake around it. The remaining four friends head out for the dam also but someone with unclear intentions is following them…and laying traps for them.
“Rituals” is a very good wilderness thriller that may draw inspiration from the classic “Deliverance” (1972) but it’s even more layered and very effective. The title alone has multiple meanings from both the protagonists perspective but also from the antagonist who actually is given a reason for the reign of terror he invokes on the vacationing doctors.
The harsh surroundings are very daunting and at times this looks like quite the guerilla filmmaking. It’s quite obvious the actors had some physical challenges, and the film looks very authentic in presenting the dangers they face. The decent script presents the characters as fairly gloomy with some inner demons to overcome and it makes for some heated exchanges and heavy drama that’s well presented in the story. Not only are they fighting the environment and a fiendish foe but also among themselves; particularly Harry and Mitzi who have some unresolved issues.
The oppressing atmosphere is admirably sustained but also make sure that “Rituals” is never an enjoyable sit but rather demanding on occasion. There’s a long stretch where Harry and Mitzy are severely tested and it’s quite grueling to watch. The characters reveal enough of themselves through dialogue to be two-dimensional and their actions feel authentic.
The film is fairly gruesome on occasion, very suspenseful and the final act is thrilling and satisfying. The talky screenplay is well written and it smartly gives the evildoer a twisted reason for his doings without spelling everything out for the audience.
The acting here is really good. Holbrook carries the biggest weight and he’s up for it and delivers a very physical performance as well as a dramatic one as his character really goes through the ringer. Dane is also very good as Mitzy, who’s not as noble a person as Harry but no less interesting. I also think Gammell does very good work as Marty.
While “Deliverance” has always been heaped with praise (and rightly so), “Rituals” has been much more obscure and even trashed by noted critics but it’s recent availability in a decent version offers the opportunity for re-appraisal. It’s a mean, gruesome and highly suspenseful slice of wilderness thrills that’s well performed, directed, written and lensed by René Verzier (“Rabid” – 1977) that deserves to be better known.