I’ve had some gnarly camping trips into the Canadian wilderness myself, but none so brutal, backbreaking and harrowing as the Ontario expedition that five bickering middle aged doctors embark on in Rituals, a punishingly intense, staggeringly effective thriller that despite a low budget, is about as high impact as possible. The cast is headed up by the late great Hal Holbrook and Lawrence Dane, two pack leaders in a team of five career medical professionals who are so far from the white coats and fluorescent lit hallways they usually no doubt inhabit, on a ruthless trek through the harshest terrain made all the more strenuous by the fact that they are being tracked, hunted and terrorized by an unseen individual who knows the region, and the psychological complexity of predator vs prey, far better than these fellows. This obviously has a Deliverance vibe on paper but not only is it a far stronger film than that (Boorman’s piece is a tad over-celebrated in my book), it isn’t just that tired old ‘big city blowhards tormented by inbred backwood yahoos’, there’s an actual believable reason why this person has targeted them, revealed bit by bit as their heinous ordeal unfolds. What also makes this so effective is the writing and performances; every character is fully fleshed out and feels like a real human being instead of a token archetype of your classic group dynamic, thanks to a script that has both compassion and condemnation for its characters in the same complex stroke. These are genuine human beings and the actors, Holbrook and Dane in particular, play them uncannily well in perhaps the performances of their careers. Not to mention the lush, lake speckled Northern Ontario scenery that abruptly turns stark, threatening and very Mordor-esque later on in the third act to mirror the increasingly hopeless plight of the men wandering through this desolate and unforgiving realm. This is an exceptional film, with a few damaged reels (VHS lines and cigarette burns lovingly dot the celluloid landscape) and Shudder has done a great job restoring what it could into Blu Ray quality while retaining a frayed, Grindhouse visual aesthetic at the same time. Highly, highly recommended.

-Nate Hill

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