The Ritual by Adam Nevill, Narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies

The Ritual is a fantastic journey into the realm of folk horror, a literary exploration into the sort of narrative that evokes themes familiar to fans of movies like The Wicker Man or Midsommar. As four friends hike into the autumn wilderness of Sweden, they discover that not all shortcuts are meant to be taken, that there are secrets and horrors in hidden places, and they find tensions that refuse to remain beneath the surface as stress and fear take a heavy toll on the men.
The gloomy, sinister forest is brought to stark, claustrophobia-inducing life as Adam Nevill draws us deeper into the trees and brush as the relentless rainfall paints everything gray and lifeless. The characters of Hutch, Dom, Phil, and Luke are similarly well-drawn and three-dimensional in their portrayal. This realism serves to make the narrative all the more captivating as we become invested in the drama playing out between the hikers and the overwhelming sense of unease as we experience the disquieting events through Luke’s perspective.
By the time the four men discover they’re not alone in the woods, it’s far too late to turn back, and the desperate push forward presents challenges that grow increasingly difficult.
Now, because I’ve seen the movie adaptation as well, I’m going to compare the two. This portion of my post will include spoilers, so anyone seeking to avoid spoilers of either book or film should stop here.
The movie would have benefitted a great deal from incorporating elements that were exclusive to the novel, such as the multi-generational graveyard and the ancient, decrepit church Luke discovered when he ventured off on his own. I loved that whole section of the story, and I think it added something to the atmosphere of the narrative moving forward. Similarly, the familiarity Hutch had with some of the architecture and runic writing was a nice touch that I felt could have made the movie better. I also preferred the absence of the cowardice subplot, wherein Luke did nothing and allowed a fifth friend to die. Unfortunately, with the absence of that subplot, we also lost the element of blurred reality that I enjoyed a great deal in the movie, wherein the god of the forest used illusions and hallucinations to manipulate the men.
The movie was superior once Luke made it to the village near the end. The addition of Dom being present and alive for a portion of that section of the story was a nice touch that I think made for a better overall story. Sure, we had the reconciliation between Luke and Dom in the novel as well, but it felt more appropriate at the point when the men were in captivity and facing the very real probability of death. Removing the irritating caricatures of Loki and Fenris was a great choice, as I almost stopped with the book when those characters insisted on remaining present for altogether too much of the narrative. The random insertion of the fictional, murderous nordic black metal band, Blood Frenzy, felt like a pointless way to share the author’s familiarity with contemporary bands within the genre. Additionally, the portrayal of the god/monster within the movie was spectacular and exceeded anything I imagined from the book.
Overall, I think I enjoyed the movie a bit more than the book, which is an uncommon thing…but it does happen.
The audiobook narration provided by Matthew Lloyd Davies was spectacular. He even managed to superbly capture the accents of the characters I’d have preferred to do without. The narration certainly served to add depth and texture to the narrative, something that leapt from the page, so to speak, bringing an extra quality to the words penned by Nevill.

Midsommar (2019)

Ari Aster’s Midsommar doesn’t receive the credit it deserves within a lot of the horror communities I interact with. The same goes for his previous film, Hereditary.
To some extent, I think it’s simply a matter of taste…some people seem to have little patience for more atmospheric horror, and Midsommar relies heavily on atmosphere much as movies like It Follows and Session 9 previously did. Similarly, there are psychological and symbolic elements scattered throughout the narrative, both subtle and overt. This is very much a movie for those who enjoyed Hereditary’s relatively slow burn horror and drip-fed revelations.
In both movies, the overall focus is that of cult activity, albeit framed quite differently from Hereditary to Midsommar. In this one, the communal religious sect from Sweden is quite upfront about their existence and adherence to old rituals and practices. Speaking of those rituals and practices, Aster did a fair bit of research into mythical traditions as well as actual practices within the prehistoric Nordic cultures to cultivate a plausible framework for the cult’s beliefs and activities. Mingling that blend of fact and fiction with the supernatural allowed him to craft an unsettling, tense, and phantasmagorical experience with this movie.
Florence Pugh puts forth an excellent performance as the emotionally and psychologically fragile, Dani. Her breadth of expression and emotive display is stretched about as far as a single performance could manage. On the opposite side of the central relationship, we have Jack Reynor’s performance as Christian which, while no less impressive, leans more toward emotionally distant and confused throughout the tale. Watching the relationship deteriorate from the already well-eroded substrate at the beginning is both heartbreaking–as we feel sympathy for Dani–and satisfying–as we feel increasing contempt for Christian.
The rest of the cast is no less impressive in their respective roles, but they all take a backseat to the dominant spotlights of the movie…the crumbling relationship between Dani and Christian, and the increasingly disturbing unveiling of the nightmare the outsiders have wandered into as guests/sacrifices.
Comparisons with The Wicker Man (1973) are certainly appropriate. The same element of outsiders being manipulated into playing preordained parts in a larger, primitive ritual is present in both movies. The same sort of disquieting undercurrent runs beneath the surface in both movies, though it certainly seems to breach the surface far more frequently and earlier in the film in this case. In fact, if you took The Wicker Man and blended it with a splash of Believers (2007), a dash of Shrooms (2007), and just a touch of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), you would have something quite similar to Midsommar.
It’s best to sit down and just experience this movie as it all plays out before you. There’s certainly gore (though the movie doesn’t rely on it as the backbone of the story), nudity, and psychological aspects that might be disturbing for some viewers…but there’s also a compelling story taking place.