Studio: Screen Media Darkside
Director: Joko Anwar
Writer: Joko Anwar
Producer: Sheila Timothy
Stars: Rio Dewanto, Hannah Al Rashid, Izzi Isman, Aridh Tritama, Sadha Triyudha, Jose Gamo, Marsha Timothy, Surya Saputra
Suffering from amnesia, a man awakens after being buried alive to begin a desperate search for his missing family.
Even though it is already relatively brief at 85 minutes, “Ritual” would be much easier to universally recommend if it were only half that length. Alternately known as “Modus Anomali,” the story has a devilish twist that might have been more satisfying if it had been delivered in a different format. The carrot of the climax falls just shy of being meaty enough to dangle as a reward in front of those with short attention spans.
Writer/director Joko Anwar purposefully starts the story already in progress. The suspense comes from making sure that the viewer enters at a starting point that gives him/her no more information than the amnesia-challenged protagonist.
John Evans is the mystery man who rises from the dirt of a shallow forest grave to set events in motion. Unsure of who he is, where he is, or how he got there, his only clue is the photograph in his wallet of a wife and two children. Things escalate from bad to worse when John makes his way to a cabin in the woods and settles in for a snuff film on the television featuring the pregnant woman from his picture. Her dead body happens to be in the room with him, too. Unfortunately for John, an unknown assailant hot on his trail sees to it that there is no time to mourn. John flees back to the trees and enters into a seesaw battle of hunter-prey with his would-be assassin.
Most of the familiar clichés used to describe thrilling moments in movies can apply here. “Ritual” is at its peak during “pulse pounding” chases and “nail-biting” moments of tense anticipation. In a good way, the mystery is maddening as the mind frantically grabs each jigsaw piece of a clue or story revelation in an eager race to complete the puzzle.
At issue is the fact that these peaks only rise so high because the valleys are so low. “Ritual” takes its time ramping up with an overdose of scenes that involve aimless wandering through trees, breathlessly waiting for a pursuer to pass, and just generally stumbling around with little to show for the effort. John’s predicament is established immediately, but “Ritual” extends itself to feature length with continued illustrations of the man’s frustration, confusion, and desperation. There can only be so many shots of John sweating, screaming, and pondering his situation before the momentum deadens to a standstill.
“Ritual” rings the right bells as a clever head scratcher while teetering dangerously on the edge of overstaying its welcome. Try too hard to solve the mystery before John does and you probably will. The initial cast of characters can be counted on one hand and the film is mostly wordless. Even by telling the tale backwards, the plot is fairly to the point and leaves no room for distractions to throw anyone off the scent. The best course of action is to ride the wave willingly and to not let the brain stray too far ahead of the story. Simply suspecting how things turn out would ruin the best thing that the movie has going for it, which is the mystery of why this family is being hunted by an unidentified stalker in the forest.
“Ritual” has its work cut out for it when it comes to engaging the impatient. And while the answer to the question burning at the movie’s core may not be mind-blowing or earth shaking, it does fulfill the promise made by the premise in a way that makes the mouth of a slightly fiendish mind twist into a wicked smirk.
Review Score: 65