In Mickey Keating's 2013 meta-horror thriller extravaganza Ritual, the awesomely-named Lisa Marie Summerscales plays Lovely, resident of South Texas, whose turn ons include smoking at the beach, cruising dive bars and picking up guys with more prison tats than teeth.
The film opens with Lovely meeting a mysterious stranger named Tom after which we cut to black and hear a now very panicked Lovely on the phone asking Tom to come rescue her from a truck stop motel where "something bad" has happened.
Tom, who we come to find out is now Lovely's estranged husband, arrives at the motel and, after assuring her that he really, really, really, pinky swear came alone, enters the room to find her cohabitating with a freshly killed body. No one said relationships were easy.
After a bit of predictable back and forth of the form "what were you doing here with this guy? Why did you involve me? I'm calling the police" Lovely recounts the circumstances of her gentleman caller's untimely demise. Long story short, after they got back to the room Lovely was feeling woozy from the multiple roofies he'd evidently given her and so declined his polite offer of one more drink, to which he took moderate offense. Matters escalated and Lovely ended up stabbing him. Twice.
After telling Tom this story, Lovely persuades him that the only reasonable course of action is to dispose of the body. Naturally.
While Lovely freshens up and takes a moment to ponder how her choices may have contributed to the predicament in which she now finds herself, Tom rummages the dead man's car just to make sure his fingerprints are all over everything (you know, the way you do) and discovers a Jurassic era video camera with a tape still inside.
Back in the room, Tom hooks the camera up to the TV and the couple watch in horror as a young woman is ritually murdered by a group of cultists wearing masks that may or may not be based on William Shatner's skull. But instead of making them say AARRRGGH!, the tape makes them say "let's get the fuck out of here!" And so the couple beats feet out of the motel.
For reasons that were telegraphed so strongly in the first act that Western Union stations blew fuses from here to Corpus Christi, Tom and Lovely are compelled to return to the motel room where they are naturally set upon by Team Shatnerhead.
Yadda yadda yadda...evil old man with creepy cigarette lighter...Bret Easton Ellis-inspired murderous bro mosh pit…"go on with out me, Lovely!"...damsel in distress running down an unlit road...oddball cultist road humor...aaaand...we're out.
There's plenty wrong with Ritual. The villains are cliched and undermotivated, Tom and Lovely's marital problems seem to exist only to eat up a little screen time in the first act and the climactic scene awkwardly shifts from survival horror to a two-man comedy routine which isn't bad but seems out of place.
All that said, Ritual is on the whole a fun Halloween watch. The performances are generally good, especially Brian Lally as the third act's menacing Bad Grandpa. The cinematography and shot construction are creative. And the sound design is surprisingly rich in places.
But what really makes Ritual a worthy pick for your All Hallow's Eve sugar binge is the artful use of classic horror film references. Throughout the film, observant horror film fans will spot homages to Dawn of the Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Halloweens I through III, The Blair Witch Project and probably a half dozen others.
And where much of Ritual is about as nuanced as a vigorous application of power tools to the genitals, these references are dropped with relative subtlety, bending the narrative without breaking it.
To paraphrase Rust Cohle, if you're looking for a film that feels like someone's faded memory of Halloween, a film where you can really smell the psychosphere, you can do a lot worse than Ritual.
Two and a half stars. Jason Bob sez check it out!
Ritual is available on DVD and Amazon Instant Watch.