Written by Adam Nevill
★★★★ of ★★★★★
Adam Nevill’s The Ritual is as scary as its film counterpart.
Within the depths of an ancient rotting forest in Northern Sweden, four friends become lost and hunted. Adversity comes in the form of nature, cruel and immense, the supernatural, ancient and not subject to the rules of our modern world, and the strife that can arise between even the closest of friends in such harrowing circumstances.
The Ritual, written by Adam Nevill, shares many of its key elements with its 2017 Netflix film adaptation, diverging primarily at both ends but sharing a common center. In both, the foreboding forest is its own character, a twisted primal wilderness that swallows up our protagonists, dwarfs them with its unmoving presence. It is as much a danger as the mysterious thing that hunts them, something that is bloodthirsty, fast, and clever.
Luke feels outside of the deep friendship that binds the other three men. During their college years, they were inseparable but now a wall has built up between them. In the film, this separation is marked by one event, a liquor store robbery during which the group’s fifth friend is killed and Luke is too paralyzed with fear to act. In the novel, the wall is erected with less immediacy; Luke is still single and working retail while his friends are married and raising children. As Luke struggles with his environment, he also struggles to understand the divide that now separates him from his friends.
The suffering of the characters, especially that of Luke, is more acute in the novel, really kicking up the physical torment that forces the men to look inside themselves for a survival instinct long dormant from lack of use. Frankly, there are times when Luke should be dead from injuries but keeps Energizer Bunnying along. The latter third, when most of this brutal refusal to die occurs, barely shows itself in the film which makes for a stronger, more solid ending, though it only touches onto concepts that the book dwells perhaps too long upon.
I loved both movie and book, drawn by their shared atmosphere of claustrophobia and hopelessness in the face of true human inferiority. I prefer the movie. Changing the impetus for the lads’ holiday changed the entire moral of the story. The film deals with regret and guilt, the book with the shallowness of society and the inescapable mortality of everything. Both are very heavy topics and both are very worthy of exploration. I can’t say that the book drags (I read it in three days), but it does, much like our unfortunate hikers, retread covered ground. Luke’s inner turmoil incites epiphanies that piggyback onto older ones. Even with this repetition, I still had to fight the urge to skip to the end to see if any of the protagonists made it through their Swedish ordeal. So, I have to say that I recommend both.