Tag Archives: Horror

A Dangerous Shortcut: A Review of The Ritual

Arsher Ali as Phil, Sam Troughton as Dom, Rafe Spall as Luke and Robert-James Collier as Hutch.

The Ritual is a British horror film based on Adam Nevill’s book by the same name. It was released on October 12, 2017 by Netflix.

This review is spoiler-free. As always, the only time I share spoilers about a movie or tv show on my site would be if I needed to warn my readers about potentially triggering material in it. There was nothing like that in this film.

The premise of The Ritual is a simple one. After losing an old university friend to a random act of violence, Phil, Dom, Luke, and Hutch went hiking and camping in a remote corner of Sweden to spend time together and honour the memory of their deceased friend.

About a day into their trip, Dom tripped and accidentally injured his knee. The group still had many kilometres to go through the mountains on their hike, and none of their cellphones could get a signal in such a remote location. The four characters decided to take a shortcut through the woods so that he could rest and get proper medical attention as soon as possible due to these factors.

A violent thunderstorm began soon after they entered the woods, so the characters sought refuge in an abandoned cabin for the night despite their deeply uneasy feelings about the property. They broke up a piece of the house to start a fire, and then settled down for a good night’s rest before hopefully continuing their journey in the morning.

As they were about to discover, they should have listened to those feelings. The cabin wasn’t abandoned after all, and the person/entity/thing who lived there wasn’t pleased by their trespassing at all. (I must be purposefully vague on this point in order to avoid giving you too many hints about who or what these characters angered).

The Characters

My main criticism of this film has to do with how similar all four of the characters were. Phil, Dom, Luke, and Hutch all had fairly outgoing, sarcastic, and jovial personalities that tended to blend into one another.

There also wasn’t a lot of information given about their backstories.  What were their occupations? Were they married or otherwise in longterm relationships? If they weren’t single, were their partners men or women? Did they have kids? The references to their adult lives were so sparse that I still don’t know the answers to these questions for all four of the main characters in this storyline. As nice as it was to have some of these questions answered for some of them, I thought it was odd that such basic information wasn’t provided for everyone.

I had a difficult time thinking of them as individuals because of this. While I’d certainly expect such a tight-knit group of old friends to share many common interests, it would have been nice to have more character development before the plot picked up so that I could remember who was who when they did make rare references to their personal lives. Sharing details about who they shared their lives with and what occupations they had would have gone a long way to separating these characters in my mind.

There’s nothing wrong with a plot-driven storyline, but I do think this one would have been even better if it had taken more time to show who the characters were before putting them into terrible danger.

The Antagonist

There isn’t much I can say about the antagonist without giving away major spoilers, but I was much happier with how this portion of the plot was handled.

The backstory was well-developed and fit into the storyline nicely. I especially liked the fact that it took the characters as long as they did to learn anything at all about what was lurking in the woods. This wasn’t a case of characters knowing in advance that a particular spot had a bad reputation and deciding to explore it anyway.

They had no idea what they were about to stumble into after the thunderstorm began, and that made the later events of the plot even more exciting than they would have otherwise been. It also provided plausible deniability for why they didn’t immediately leave the cabin they were staying in the first time something frightening happened in it.

In my opinion, horror movies are most enjoyable when the characters genuinely had no idea what they were getting into before the first bizarre things happens to them.

The Horror

One of the things I always want to know before I watch something from this genre is what sort of horror we’re talking about.

Is the plot gory? Does the fear the characters and audience feel mostly come from anticipation, or will we actually see whatever it is that seems to be roaming around in the woods and hunting them down? Do the characters react sensibly the first time they sense something is horribly wrong?

Once again, I’m dancing around spoilers here, so bear with me if I don’t fully answer all of your questions.

The first thing I’d say about the plot is that it is firmly planted in the horror genre. If you love being scared, there are plenty of spine-chilling scenes to come when you begin watching The Ritual. I had to watch a couple of scenes from the corner of my eye because of how scared I was for the characters in them.

As far as the gore goes, it definitely existed. This isn’t something I’d recommend to people who have a phobia of blood or gore even though the scenes that included those things were only a small part of the storyline overall.

I don’t like slasher movies, and this wasn’t one of them. The build up to the moment the characters realize the cabin they’ve broken into had never been abandoned at all was handled nicely. Honestly, the storyline was just as much about that moment as it was about everything that happened afterwards.

This isn’t the sort of tale that has any sort of profound messages about death, grief, or friendship woven into it. I’m not criticizing it by saying that, either. Not everything in life needs to be deep in order to be enjoyable. This is a classic horror film in every way, and the characters fit into that genre beautifully.

Should You Watch It?

If you love the horror genre and are in the mood for a satisfying scare, I would recommend this film.

A Peek at My Never-Ending List of Scifi and Fantasy Films to Watch

A number of years ago I started keeping track of movies I’d like to watch once they became available to rent online.

This list has only ballooned over time despite my valiant attempts to chip away at it. The problem with watching a film is that you have to carve out about two hours of time for it. It’s easier to commit 22-45 minutes on a TV show than a few hours for something that I’m not always sure I’m actually going to enjoy.

My hope is that I might find an extra boost of motivation to watch some of these movies if I share my list publicly. Their titles are bolded and include links to the trailers for them when possible. I’m including brief notes on how I first heard of them or why they appeal to me, too.

(Yes, this list is alphabetized. I’m geeky like that).

The Age of Adeline

This reminded me of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, another movie about a character who doesn’t age in a typical fashion. It’s going to be fascinating to compare the tale of a man who aged backwards with the story of a woman who didn’t age at all.

Alpha 

As my longtime readers know, I love stories set in the distant past that are about hunter-gatherers or other similar cultures. The fact that this film is also about taming a wolf only makes me want to see it more once it’s released in September of this year.

If I like it, you all might just get a review of it at some point.

Angelica

I loved the book it was based on and do want to see how the film compares one of these days. The references to possible child abuse in the original version were so unsettling that I’ll need to be in just the right mood to watch it.

Annihilation

For some reason, I mixed this film up with Arrival a few weeks ago. I thought I’d already seen (and loved) Annihilation, but it turns out I was thinking of Arrival instead. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who I was discussing it with anymore, but my apologies for the error. This is definitely something I will be watching and blogging about as soon as I can rent it online. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite available yet.

Coco 

I adore well-made animated films like Inside Out, Wall-E, Up, and Finding Nemo.  Honestly, sometimes it feels like they were written for adult audiences just as much as children.

Coco‘s take on death and the afterlife looks particularly interesting, especially since I don’t know a lot about this part of Mexican culture in general.

Devil 

This was recommended by @Alexandria_SZ‬ from Twitter. I’ve never been someone who feared stepping into an elevator, but it sure would be a scary experience if you’re riding with the devil!

The Devil’s Backbone

Also recommended by @Alexandria_SZ‬. You’re going to see several more recommendations from her in this list. What can I say? She has good taste in movies.

Get Out

I have heard nothing but positive things about this Oscar-winning film since it was first released last year. The horror genre doesn’t generally spend a lot of time on serious social commentary, so I’m looking forward to seeing how race and racism are discussed and dissected in it.  It honestly should be the next thing I watch.

A Ghost Story

What appeals to me the most about this one is that the ghost in it isn’t scary at all. Like The Babadook, it appears to be using “frightening” themes in order to explore love, grief, and other topics that are usually brushed over in the paranormal genre.

The Good Dinosaur

There’s something to be said for a friendly dinosaur movie every now and again.

Iceman

Yes, this is about a real person who lived and died about 5,000 years ago. I included it in today’s post due to all of the educated guesses the filmmakers and scientists made about who this man was and why he died such a violent death. While their speculation is based on all of the scientific research done on Otzi’s life and death, there is an art to putting all of those clues together.

If I lived closer to my mom, I’d gently pester her to watch it with me as soon as it becomes available to rent online. I think she’d really love it.

If I Stay

The book this was based on was excellent. I truly enjoyed reading the main character’s thoughts about the hazy place between death and life she was existing in after a horrible car accident. Would she fight to wake up from her coma or go to the afterlife to join certain loved ones who died in the same accident that so badly injured her?  There were compelling reasons for her to make both choices. While I was pretty sure which one she was going to make in the book by the time I’d finished the first chapter, it’s going to be emotional to watch those moments play out in vivid detail on my TV screen.

Into the Forest

Every few months, I ask my spouse again if he’d like to see this movie with me. I think he’d really enjoy the post-apocalyptic themes in it given how gritty and realistic the book was. My fingers are crossed that he’ll someday say yes and give it a try. If not, I’ll still watch these teenage sisters try to survive in a dangerous world where there are no longer  police officers, antibiotics, adult supervision, or electricity.

Lights Out

I honestly have no idea how I heard of this one. It looks frightening, though!

A Monster Calls

There’s no shame in admitting that I sobbed my way through the last few scenes the book this was based on. Patrick Ness is an incredibly talented writer. I just need to be in the right mood to be emotionally torn to shreds again. LOL!

Monsters University.

Monsters, Inc. was such a fun tale. I sure hope the sequel will be every bit as good. This is another one of those films that I’m waiting to watch with my spouse.

Open Grave

Recommended by @Alexandria_SZ‬.

Orphan

Also recommended by @Alexandria_SZ‬.

The Revenant

Is there any part of your mind, body, or soul that is surprised this was also recommended by @Alexandria_SZ as well‬? Keep reading, because this isn’t the last recommendation from her.

The Shape of Water

Based on what I’ve seen online, some people adored this movie. Others didn’t have that reaction. I’m withholding judgement either way until I’ve seen it for myself, and I’m trying to avoid spoilers in the meantime.

The Skeleton Key

I feel like @Alexandria_SZ‬ might have recommended this one to me as well. Maybe she’ll remember for sure either way?

The Visit

Recommended by @Alexandria_SZ‬ as well as by several other horror fans I know who deeply enjoyed it. As with most of the other horror flicks on this list, I’ll need to be in the right mood to watch it.

Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built 

I love ghost stories that are based on real people, places, events, and/o items in rour world. It makes some of the tired tropes in this genre feel fresh again. This also sounds like the kind of urban legend that would have really creeped me out as a kid.

***

If you’ve seen any of these films, tell me what you think of them! Were they good? What did you like about them? Would you recommend buying them or waiting for them to show up on Netflix or similar sites?

How long is your to-watch list? If you share it, I’ll tell you what I think of anything on your list that I’ve already seen.

Saturday Seven: Characters Who Need a Date

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, so today I’m thinking about characters who could really have benefited from going on a date. None of the characters I’m about to discuss had romantic storylines. They were far too busy looking after a disabled friend, exploring a haunted mansion, fighting for the freedom of an innocent man, raising a large family, protecting their household from a vengeful spirit, or otherwise staying busy.

While avoiding romantic subplots was definitely the right decision for all of these books, I can’t help but to think that all of the main characters in them would have had happier lives if they somehow could have carved out a couple of hours of free time for an offstage date at some point.

For example…

1. Dr. Faraday from The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.

Dr. Faraday rose from humble beginnings to become a respected country physician. Unfortunately, his job didn’t pay well, and his patients kept him so busy that he didn’t have any time at all for romance. This became even more of an obstacle once he realized that a few of his patients may be living in a haunted house. Let’s just say that dealing with what may be a angry ghost doesn’t leave a lot of time for dating.  

He would have some attention-grabbing stories to share on a date, though, and I think it would have been good for him to have someone to discuss all of his eerie experiences with. He lived such a lonely and sometimes even frightening life in this book. Having someone to talk to  would have done him a world of good.

2. Constance Barton from Angelica: A Novel by Arthur Phillips.

Constance was a young Victorian mother who became convinced that an evil spirit was terrorizing her daughter at night. She hired a spiritualist to figure out what the entity wanted and why it was attacking her family.

There was far more happening in the Barton household than what was revealed right away. Constance’s marriage was disintegrating before her eyes, and her health was becoming increasingly fragile as a result of a string of incredibly dangerous pregnancies that had produced only one living child so far.

Constance could have really used a nice, chaste date with someone who treated her kindly and who wasn’t obsessed with having a son to carry on the family name.

3. Miss Peregrine from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Wayward Children by Ransom Riggs. 

Miss Peregrine was raising multiple children who were mischievous and had magical powers. She’d been doing this on her own for years, and she had no reason to think her duties would ever end because she and her brood been forced to move to a place that existed outside of time in order to avoid being caught by people who wanted to harm all of them. Her wards were always going to remain their current ages due to the weird way that time passed by where they lived.

She was a fantastic parent figure to the kids, but she really could have used one night where she didn’t have to remind anyone to wash their hands or eat their vegetables. A date would do a world of good for this character. Since I haven’t read the other books in this series yet, I can only hope that someday she’ll get to do just that.

4. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. 

Atticus was a widower, a single father of two young kids, and a lawyer. He agreed to defend an innocent black man named Tom Robinson who had been wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

Atticus probably never would have admitted that he could find the time to date, but this character sure would have benefitted from a few hours away from all of the responsibilities in his life. Other than Tom, of course, Atticus was the character I sympathized the most with in this tale.

5. Susie Salmon from The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. 

Susie was violently murdered when she was fourteen. As she adjusted to the afterlife and attempted to contact the loved ones she’d been ripped away from, she began to realize all of the important life events she was going to miss out on because of how young she’d been when she died.

Going on one date would have meant the world to her. I wish she could have had that experience.

6. George from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

George had voluntarily taken on full financial and legal responsibility for a developmentally-delayed friend of his at at time when people who had those kinds of disabilities didn’t have access to any of the government programs or other types of support that they can rely on today.

While this definitely isn’t canon, I imagine George as a man who would have been identified as gay if he’d lived in modern times. He seemed much more comfortable living with and near other men than he did around women, so I’d set him up with a friendly guy who didn’t mind dating someone who already had many responsibilities in life.

Maybe he’d do well dating someone who also knew what it was like to be the legal guardian of someone whose disabilities required them to have close daily supervision?

7. Carrie from Carrie by Stephen King.

Carrie’s horribly abusive upbringing made me feel so much sympathy for her, especially once I realized that her life was only slightly less traumatic when she was at school.

If only she’d had the chance to experience a normal, happy existence. There were the briefest glimpses of the person she could have become here and there, but she would have really blossomed if she’d done something as simple as held hands with a cute guy at the movie theatre or had someone in her life who told her she looked pretty every once in a while.

Which characters do you wish you could send on a well-deserved date?

How to Survive a Paranormal Storyline

 

“Cara Mujer” by Cesar Tort.

Congratulations on your new home, job, vacation spot, construction project, antique gift, or other plot device that has invited a restless spirit into your formerly-peaceftul storyline!

While most of the characters who take the time to look up what to expect in a haunting are the protagonists, I’d like to give a special shout-out to all of the supporting characters who were attentive enough to realize that something was seriously wrong with this new development in your lives. The fact that you figured this out so soon speaks well of your chances of making it to the end.

On the topic of the changes you’ve noticed, you’re not hallucinating, exaggerating, or imagining anything. Those noises you’ve been hearing late at night when no else is around are real, and the spirits are only going to amplify their attempts to grab your attention if you don’t act now.

Unlike post-apocalyptic storylines, secondary characters aren’t doomed to die in these tales, and not every protagonist is guaranteed to survive either. Sometimes everyone lives. In other cases, everyone dies. Every haunting is unique in this regard.

So much depends on what sort of spirit you’re dealing with, how quickly you figure out that they are a threat, and how intelligently you respond to the escalation in their behaviour after that.

All characters regardless of their role in the plot should follow these rules if they want to survive:

  1. Escape through one of the rare and usually obscurely-marked exit doors. If you happen to notice what is really going on before the end of the first scene and the spirits have shown themselves capable of any violent behaviour at all, this is by far your best chance for survival. This technique generally doesn’t work, though, which leads me to the rest of this list…
  2. Research the history of the haunted item or location. Visit your local historical society, library, senior centre, nursing home, or any similar place that may have first-hand accounts of how your ghost died and what he or she may needs in order to move on to the next world. If the first hints of a haunting happen when these places aren’t open to the public, looking up any information you may already have online is an acceptable substitute as long as you follow up on any leads you found first thing in the morning.
  3. Don’t tolerate any distractions until you’ve completed the previous assignment. Any character who attempts to downplay your concerns or delay your research for any reason at all is a threat to your survival. They almost certainly will not be doing this on purpose, but this doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Avoid them as much as possible until after the climax has ended (assuming they survive that long).
  4. Look for discrepancies. Sometimes newspaper articles, diaries, eyewitness testimonies, and other pieces of evidence are incomplete, accidentally inaccurate, or even purposefully fabricated for any number of reasons. If the various accounts of the spirit’s life and death are contradictory, keep digging until you’ve found more clues about what really happened. Do not discount any records immediately, but also avoid assuming that you know the whole story this early on in the plot. You almost certainly do not.
  5. Never split up the group in a haunted building. Does this even need to be said anymore? No matter how tempted you may be to speed up your exploration of the grounds, we all know that this never ends well for ghost-hunting groups that attempt it. Stick together and stay alive.
  6. Call in a psychic. Yes, I know that they aren’t always helpful in these sorts of plots. Some of them act like they’ve never met a vengeful spirit before, and others honestly don’t seem that psychically sensitive at all! I’m not saying you should take everything they say as the unvarnished truth, but they may be able to provide pieces of the puzzle that no one knew about at the time of the victim’s violent or sudden death.
  7. Listen to the psychic’s recommendations. If they tell you the spirit is violent and dangerously uncooperative, follow their instructions on how best to deal with such an entity without delay. This includes moving away from your dream home or giving up on that desperately-needed trip if that’s what they recommend. Nothing is worth risking your life over.
  8. Don’t bother throwing away or destroying haunted objects. As thrilling as it might be for readers who are brand new to this genre to see the horrified look on your face when that doll or other item magically ends up right back in your home in pristine condition, everyone else know that this is nothing but a waste of time. Call in a second psychic instead if you really insist on dragging out the rising action or climax.
  9. Burn the bones. If there’s one thing that Supernatural has taught me, it’s that the fastest way to permanently get rid of a ghost is by finding their grave and burning their remains. Make this a priority if appeasing the spirit in other ways doesn’t work the first time you attempt it.
  10. Double-check your work. Just because you think you’ve found the right grave or performed the correct ritual doesn’t mean there are no loose ends flapping around out there in this part of the plot. Don’t let down your guard until you’ve made sure that you’ve destroyed everything that’s tying the ghost to this realm and you really have reached the conclusion after all.

Final Thoughts

A few of you are probably wondering if you’re actually in one of those rare paranormal stories that involves a completely harmless spirit. The fact that you read this far means this is extremely unlikely to be true. Even the most mischievous ghost who had a truly friendly nature would stop immediately and reveal their identity if they frightened someone. It’s only a joke if everyone is laughing along!

The fact that you’re worried enough about your haunting to read this essay means that you’re not dealing with one of those rare spirits that is only rattling your dishes or opening your kitchen cabinets as a lighthearted attempt to grab your attention.

Listen to your intuition. If you do that and follow the steps listed above, you still stand an excellent chance of living long enough to either see the ghost move onto the next world or transferring to a safer place to live yourself.

Previous posts in this series: 

How to Survive a Post-Apocalyptic Storyline.

5 Classic Science Fiction Books That Everyone Should Read

There’s something about the snowy days of January that makes me want to curl up with a classic science fiction novel and not lift my head up again until April.

I’m not entirely sure why I have this urge. Maybe it’s because burying my nose in something that was old and often assigned in English class a few years after I’d read it was exactly how I used to spend cold winter weekends when I was a kid? There is also the joy of discovering a story you’ve heard lots of references to in other places. I was positively thrilled to finally get the real version of the first entry on this list. As interesting as movies and TV shows are, they often make changes to the characters or plot that anyone who isn’t familiar with the original might not even notice.

At any rate, if you haven’t read any of these classics yet, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Yes, I’m playing a little loose with the definition of the term classic in this post. I believe that the more modern books I included are going to be as highly praised a century from now as they are today.

“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley.

Ignore everything you may have heard about Frankenstein from TV shows and movies. Frankenstein wasn’t even the name of the creature that was created by nineteenth century science and ingenuity. That name actually comes from Dr. Frankenstein, the scientist who first came up with the idea of stitching the bodies of various corpses together and seeing if he could bring his creation to life.

What I appreciate the most about this tale is how much attention it paid to developing the characters. No one was perfectly virtuous or villainous in the storyline including the monster himself. Yes, this is part of the horror genre, but it probably isn’t the same type of horror most people imagine when they think about this genre.

All of the fear has a purpose here, and it’s not simply to frighten you. It wants to make you think.

 

“Out of the Silent Planet” by C.S. Lewis.

What if the Earth isn’t the only planet in the universe that contains intelligent life? What if we’re not even the most interesting populated planet out there?

That’s all I can say about this storyline without giving away spoilers, but this trilogy was full of delightful plot twists. C.S. Lewis really knew how to play around with the common tropes in the science fiction genre and come up with a new approach to them.

“Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler.

I wish Ms. Butler had lived long enough to finish this series. She wrote so many incredible things, and “Parable of the Sower” is honestly one of the best science fiction stories that’s been written in the last 50 years.

Imagine what North America would be like if their societies crumbled slowly instead of overnight like it does in, say, The Walking Dead. (No, there are no zombies in “Parable of the Sower,” though)

The characters in this tale did watch their financial and social prospects dwindle for many years before their home literally burns down and they’re forced to march north and hopefully find a safe place to live.

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. 

The warnings in this tale about what censorship and totalitarianism do to a society are as timely now as they were when Mr. Bradbury first released this work.

I also enjoyed the descriptions of how the government in this world got people to stop reading books and thinking for themselves. What I assumed they’d do to shut down the flow of information was the exact opposite of how it actually went down.

There were a lot of reasons why I enjoyed the storyline, but this was one of the biggest ones. I never would have guessed that the average person could be so complicit in creating a new government that wasn’t actually what they wanted at all.

“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.

On a somewhat silly note, the cold, clinical scene that showed how babies are gestated in this society still haunts me. It’s not gory or anything, but it was nothing at all like how humans reproduce in our world. I read that section two or three times in a row to fully understand how it worked the first time I picked up this story.

One of the other reasons why I recommend this tale so highly has to do with how it approaches the idea of prejudice. No one is born with prejudices. They’re something that have to be directly or indirectly taught to a child. How this happened in this society was as creative as it was disturbing.

10 Fantasy Books I’d Recommend to New Readers of This Genre

Last August I blogged about science fiction and fantasy books I’d recommend for elementary, middle school, and high school students.  Last week I blogged about science fiction books I’d recommend to adults who are unfamiliar with that genre. Today let’s talk about books that are a wonderful introduction to fantasy in general for anyone who… Read More

10 Science Fiction Books I’d Recommend to New Readers of This Genre

Last August I blogged about the science fiction and fantasy books I’d recommend for elementary, middle school, and high school students. Today I’m talking about science fictions books I’d recommend to adults who have never read anything in this genre before. Next Thursday I’ll be blogging about books in the fantasy genre that I think every adult… Read More

Why I Love to Read Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term for everything from science fiction to dystopians, fantasy to horror. I’ve been thinking a lot about speculative fiction in general since The Handmaid’s Tale began last month. This specific storytelling style has appealed to me for as long as I can remember for several different reasons. Honesty Books like 1984, Animal Farm,… Read More