The Ritual (2009)

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Ranked #9,166
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Connections: Head Case

Serial killer Wayne Montgomery was inadvertently "outed" in December 2006, after DNA evidence linked him and his wife Andrea to a series of brutal unsolved murders in the small town of Claymont, Delaware - as well as the disappearance of their own daughter Monica. However, Andrea was the only one arrested. Authorities were unable to locate Wayne, who had simply vanished. Countless hours of Wayne & Andrea's home footage, allegedly depicting several of these vicious acts being committed, had also vanished. Recently discovered footage recorded by Wayne in 2007 details his activities in the months following his wife's arrest - adjusting to his life as a fugitive...and beginning a sadistic, twisted relationship with a teenage male hustler named Jared, whom Wayne has selected to groom as a successor. However, things will soon become unraveled when outside influences threaten to destroy the foundation that Wayne has created for his young student. --IMDb
Paul McCloskey
Paul McCloskey
Barbara Lessin
Barbara Lessin
Brinke Stevens
Brinke Stevens
Michael J. Panichelli Jr.
Michael J. Panichelli Jr.
Joey Garrison
Joey Garrison
Review by Chad
Added: February 09, 2010
There is a metric fuck-ton of snow on the ground outside as I sit here typing this review, since us Delawareans have just been hit with the biggest snowstorm since... well, since I've been alive. Hundreds of people are without power, and if the tech support lady from Comcast was on the up and up with me, over ninety percent of us Delaware natives are without internet service (including yours truly). Still, I'd be willing to bet that we got nothing more than a brief blurb in the news coverage of the storm, and that's how it usually goes with one of the most insignificant states in the nation.

Seriously, our biggest claims to fame are George Thorogood (who wisely dropped the "Delaware Destroyers" part of the band name before hitting it big), a Troma movie, and a brief mention in a Simpsons episode (where even Lisa was against visiting us). So, when a fellow Delaware chap stepped up to the plate and started pumping out movies - horror movies no less - I wanted nothing more than to see him succeed so that I could finally tack something new onto that short list of mine. After sitting through his latest release, I hope for my list's sake that he changes his style around before his next movie.

Much like the previous film in this series, The Ritual is presented as a collection of footage from serial killer Wayne Montgomery's (Paul McCloskey) home movie stash. While the last film was content to introduce us to the man and his family, this one picks up after the authorities have arrested his wife and have forced him to hit the road in a valiant effort to remain free. The man knows that his days of freedom are limited, so he attempts to find a protégé who will carry on his work after he is gone. This leads him to Jared (Joey Garrison), a young punk whose life is going nowhere and who seems to have a knack for violent outbursts: the perfect candidate for Wayne's molding process. When the two start arguing more and more over how a serial killer should operate and who they should associate with, it quickly becomes clear that only one of them will live to see the credits. Watch for an appearance by Brinke Stevens as Wayne's mother in a "more than a cameo but far from top billing" role.

As mentioned, my biggest beef with the film was the style that it was presented in. The premise of the film was that you, the viewer, were watching the tapes of Delaware's most notorious serial killer. You were there when he made a few kills, you got to listen in on his conversations with Jared, and most importantly, you were given a chance to get inside the man's head. Obviously, this is a fictional character, these are scripted events, and this is not authentic snuff footage, but that is the idea driving the movie.

So, getting back to the style thing. The entirety of the film is presented with various video filters in place - not a single scene is presented in "normal" color or black and white, as every last one of them was apparently ran through iWhatever to add a "neat" look to them. Some are shown in grainy black and white, some have the color entirely washed out, some are vertically flipped, and still others are given random other effects. Admittedly, some of these scenes do look rather neat, but this is distracting to say the very least as, again, every last scene has something applied to it. Not only is it distracting, but it also takes away any hope of immersing the viewer into the filmmaker's world: how can we believe that this is authentic footage from a killer's camera when it's all so over-stylized?

My second complaint here is the same one that I had for the previous film: the running time. The film clocks in at just short of two hours, when it really should have been a lean eighty minutes or a standard ninety minutes tops. There are countless scenes that could have been trimmed down or cut entirely, with key examples being the numerous scenes where nothing happens other than the camera lingering on someone's face for upwards of thirty seconds while music plays. There's simply no excuse for this: looking at the film as "authentic footage" would mean that the film editor did a sloppy job in condensing that library of tapes into a cohesive product, while looking at it as just another movie would mean... well, the film editor did a sloppy job.

Now, it may seem as though I completely despised the film as I have done nothing but gripe about it thus far in the review, but that is not the case. I thought that the idea driving it was handled very well, and it was nice to see a movie about a serial killer that did more with the topic than simply deliver a bunch of gore and violence. Paul McCloskey was excellent in the leading role and Joey Garrison did a fine job as well, and of course, I'm a sucker for Brinke Stevens even though her role seemed to be written in at the last minute (how did Wayne's mom fall in love with her son's serial killer protégé?). The camerawork is intentionally clumsy enough to make the footage seem real but not so "bad" as to distract from the story being presented, while the musical score is also quite good.

If you can get past the rough edges, there is a lot to like about The Ritual. The storyline is fairly original in a genre full of "me too's", while the characters are memorable and the acting is top-notch. I just hope that for his next project, Mr. Spadaccini takes a pass on the post-production filters and gives his film another couple of runs through the editing process. At that point, I think that he could wind up on that list of mine, but he's not quite there yet. 6/10.
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