AUGUST 28, 2013
Not as much as I'm sick of found footage, but thanks to HMAD I've gotten pretty tired of movies that start off with a guy with amnesia and/or locked up somewhere with no idea of how he got there. Saw of course was the one to kick this trend off (thanks to Cube, a terrific movie, not getting a big enough release to be ripped off much), and thankfully it's mostly died down now in favor of, well, found footage movies - but as Ritual proves, there's still some life left to the sub-genre. Note - there will be vague-ish spoilers ahead, so stop reading if you want to go in as blind as I did! Just know that it's more thriller than horror, and have fun!
So once again our main character doesn't know who he is or why he's been buried alive in the middle of the woods, and spends a good chunk of the movie getting those answers. He finds his wallet fairly quickly so he can at least know his name (John, of course) and that he has a family, but the rest of the answers are always eluding him. When he stumbles across his home he finds his wife dead, but his children seem to be missing, and thus goes about trying to find them before whoever has done this to him comes back and finishes the job. It's pretty much a one-man show for most of the runtime; the sons show up on occasion to give us a little more context, but otherwise it's just John, running around and evading his pursuer. The movie is admirably almost completely free of dialogue - apart from his occasional "Where the fuck am I?" type shouts, we really only hear lines when the sons show up - without these scenes the movie might be incoherent. In a way, it's the glut of such films that helps inform us of what is happening early on (his amnesia, for example - not an easy thing to get across when there's no one to say "I don't know who I am" to), because you will probably be familiar with the behavior of someone in that situation from other
But that's the first hour. In an unnervingly slow reveal (again, with almost no dialogue to speed things along), we discover what's going on, and it's pretty damn sinister. I actually was on the right track with my theory, but I chalk it up to having seen too many movies and thus catching little "cheats" that a casual viewer might not pick up on (or think much of if they do). And I was still wrong, so kudos - and the way that the English title comes in once that final piece is in place is kind of awesome. Interestingly, the original title (Modus Anomali) translates to "Anomalous Mode", which would sort of be the OPPOSITE of a ritual, no? Either that translation I got is wrong or they actually have the better title now.
Now, as I said, it's not much of a horror film. There's a bit of a home invasion aspect to it once some of the backstory is revealed, and on occasion John's attempts to elude his pursuer feel like something out of a Friday the 13th stalk scene, but it's closer to something like The Vanishing or Kidnapped (2010) than any Saw/Strangers type movie. Plus, expecting a horror film does a disservice to its best shock moment, as it's the sort of thing you would probably expect in a horror film (it's actually similar to a moment in The Descent), but in a thriller is a drop-dead "Holy shit" moment. However, in terms of "How evil can someone be?", it's scarier than most films, so there's that.
On that note, if you're the type to hate a movie that doesn't explain why a villain does a particular thing, skip it. The movie offers about as much motive as the original Halloween did - "just because" seems to suffice for its screenwriters, and that's fine by me. As with Kidnapped, a big part of the film's appeal isn't so much the cleverness of its screenplay, but in how they use the basic language of cinema to do something a little off-kilter. In that, it was the long takes (and occasional split screens - that one where the two shots join up in real time still impresses me), and we had to just connect a few dots ourselves, like the opening scene that we just have to assume is the group's previous victim. Here, without any dialogue, and pretty much only one character, director Joko Anwar requires you to pay close attention to the clues, and just trust him in a way - everything makes sense (except, again, the possibly "Why?") but every single thing is conveyed with images, not a line of dialogue telling you. I guess the best way to explain it would be to imagine the big scene at the end of Usual Suspects, with Chazz Palminteri seeing all the names on the board and putting it together, but WITHOUT the voiceover and flashback footage actually linking those things up.
In other words, it's not a movie that you can tweet or text during if you want to follow everything (it's almost funny to imagine someone running to grab a drink or something and coming back after the first big reveal). I bring it up because while I was watching, I paused for some work stuff and figured I'd check Twitter before resuming the movie, only to discover yet another misguided and selfish goon had written an op-ed about how "e-screenings" should be encouraged (best was that she pointed out 46% of people admitted to tweeting at the movies - even if that number was true, which I highly doubt, that's still not even the majority, so how does that help your cause?). I'd actually pay money to have a bunch of entitled assholes playing with their phones throughout this particular movie give a thorough plot synopsis after. Memento would be a good one too. Maybe Inception...
The point is, most movies are meant to be paid attention to, not something you have on in the background. And in this day and age, I applaud Anwar and his crew for making one that absolutely requires the viewer to be immersed in order to keep up, rather than spoon-feeding the important info. Thus, an easy one to recommend when it comes your way (it just hit physical media, and I believe it's going up on Netflix Instant soon).
What say you?