Netflix’s latest film, The Ritual, is more than just another entry in the ‘scary things go bump in nature’ sub-genre. Instead, horror writer Adam Nevill delivers a terrifying character study about overcoming our darkest inner demons … and also actual giant Norse demons called Jötunn. David Brucker’s vision brings Nevill’s story to life, resulting in a beautiful, tense thriller about four friends battling forces of nature and evil. Bruckner’s previous work includes the “Amateur Night” segment in V/H/S and “The Accident” segment in Southbound. Here, he teams up with Southbound cinematographer Andrew Shulkind, to film an absolutely picturesque forest mountain terrain.

like a gender-swapped version of The Descent

Nevill has been described as “Britain’s answer to Stephen King,” and similarities are certainly present in The Ritual. Nevill’s story forces the characters to confront dark, traumatic events from their past. In addition, Keith Thompson’s creature design brings an almost fantastical element to the film’s climax. Thompson’s previous work includes Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim, and our main regret is that the budget wouldn’t allow his monster more prominently featured. Nevertheless, Bruckner blends these elements masterfully with an approach that, if mishandled, could easily have come off silly or cartoonish. Instead, Bruckner and Shulkind bring natural and supernatural elements together in a way that creates truly stunning visuals with a surreal flair.

truly stunning visuals with a surreal flair

Lead actor Rafe Spall, who you might recognize from The Big Short, turns in a magnetic performance, and is accompanied by a trio of university friends, all of whom are dealing with the same trauma (despite only one of them also having to atone for grossly profiting off of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression). Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier (who Downton Abbey fans might recognize, and Sam Troughton (AVP: Alien vs Predator) round out the main cast. The four show amazing chemistry, highlighting screenwriter Joe Barton’s dialogue. The performances bring depth into dialogue that could easily fall flat. Even the much-maligned “they should have gone to Vegas” tagline actually works well in the context of the scene.

a terrifying character study about overcoming our darkest inner demons … and also actual giant Norse demons

Ultimately, it is easy to buy this quartet as long-standing friends with very understandable strains in their relationship. Their hike along a sort of Swedish version of the Appalachian Trail takes a sinister turn when they head for uncharted territory. While this premise might seem like a gender-swapped version of The Descent, rest assured that the story takes a very different turn. In fact, with our characters dealing with eerie visuals, never being certain about what’s real and what’s not, the story feels a bit more like 2016’s The Forest, albeit far more grounded and effective. Overall, while not nearly as scary or intense as The Descent, Bruckner’s combination of emotional weight, gripping tension, and stunning visuals makes this an easy film to recommend.

The Ritual is available now via Netflix.