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The Folkloresque in The Ritual (2017)

The Folkloresque as a Concept

I love the folkloresque; this is when a movie or tv show/book, etc. uses a tale that feels like folklore but isn’t based in anything that exists in folklore. It’s a storytelling element using folklore examples to be creative and bring in a story/aspects of a story that have no factual basis-like, we know from the stories that Loki got around, as did every Norse god and goddess, but do we know if he had a self-obsessed bastard son? No, not at all. The folkloresque allows for better stories as a complete exaggeration and/or building off existing actual folklore (real folklore states that Loki exists-this story builds off that this is his son).

Obsessed With Own DivinityThis movie takes their own spin on Norse mythology and introduce this new character into the mythos; a creature who only wants to be recognized and worshipped, choosing the cowardly, sifting through their memories to find the spineless. This bastard son of Loki is obsessed with his own divinity, perhaps because it is in question or because this creature was born knowing it isn’t as powerful as other gods, which is vaguely sad.

Creature Design (Backstory and its Inhumanity)The young woman who talks to Luke tells me the creature is a god, ancient, one of the Jötunn (giants), the bastard child of Loki whose name is not spoken. They worship it, and in exchange, living beyond natural life without pain or death-their servitude buys them the removal of fears once causing cowardice. She says his ritual begins tonight, and tells him it’s a privilege to worship. You’ll kneel before it, or it’ll tree you, essentially (not much of choice here). Luke is told that his pain is great and that’s why he was chosen.The hands give the idea of humanity while the sheer size of it negates that; like nocturnal animals, it operates best under the cover of night. [I swear, I will never be a forest adventurer or cave explorer after movies like this, The Blair Witch Project (1999), and The Descent (2005). Seems miserable.]One of its special talents seems to be hallucination, but the eyes give it away (common in supernatural entities); the creature design is fantastic because it inverts where you think its eyes should be to show his inhumanity (they come from his abdomen instead of his head). He also has a rather horse-like antler appearance and often stands on its hind legs. It gave me Sleipnir vibes, but probably not since Sleipnir is male (wouldn’t put it past Loki, though; technically, Sleipnir is his son but incest has not stopped them before.)

Luke escapes but first goes upstairs (Why Luke? That can’t be the way out), sees an entire room of supplies robbed of the murdered dating back to maybe colonial times, and it isn’t really explained what’s happening in the worship weird room but the dried up bodies in there are still alive? Luke burns those bitches and hits the older lady in the face without hesitation (illiciting a laugh from me because there’s no hesitation now, is there, Luke? Also it was so abrupt.) An idea I had is that the bodies upstairs are their once-decaying bodies and through the ritual (which isn’t seen-pissed about this because it was probably fascinating), they gain new bodies-less prone to death, sickness, pain but not really because the girl who talked to him got her eyeballs removed for her trouble of talking to Luke. It appears Luke kills her out of kindness before the Jötunn can? Luke makes it out and screams at the creature who roars at him. It could be a funny moment of dominance but instead is played by the actor as an act of anger/fear/desperation/everything he experienced because of this thing and dominance. He escaped. Take that, nameless Jötunn!

Those That Worship Him

I find it strange that the group wouldn’t be automatically suspicious of the crude fire lights and the people in the structures. It isn’t my instinct to think I won’t end up chained in the woods (which might be a woman thing), so I’d tread carefully before just bursting into the nearest structure. The sounds of worship alone coming from upstairs are enough to make you never go near any woods ever again.

The older lady’s wound looks oddly like a swastika; a clawed mark representing who will be saved and who will not; there aren’t very many women in there (we see a grand total of two). Dom is beaten the shit out of, prepared for sacrifice-and the younger woman covers Luke’s ears so he doesn’t have to hear his friend’s torture. An oddly kind thing to do, given the circumstances.

Man, what a creepy locale; the fog, the animal head shrines, the trees; later, torches are a nice touch. This deity brings them back to the old ways.

Rituals/Worship

I loved the ritualistic elements and how this creature captures and kills people then puts them on display as its own ode to itself; like how obsessed are you with yourself, my dude? The shrine itself in the house is also deeply unsettling in its humanly inhuman-ness; the human parts + animal parts = hybridity (making me think this deity’s mom is human). Fun fact: demon narratives talk about animal/human hybridity in sightings, most likely because demons use this since they know it freaks us out to see things that are sort of like us but also not, feeding into the uncanny valley (if it looks too human but isn’t, it gives us weird vibes).

“That’s witchcraft”-Phil; I don’t see any reason to think that. Clearly, it is worship at work in the form of ritual (but the same thing could be said for Christianity but because we recognize those rituals, we don’t fear them)-other than the runes, the home denotes nothing of the kind. Seen throughout the forest/in the house, we see runes: we see othala (inheritance/home), algiz (protection/self-defense), berkana (birch/birth/beginnings), nauthiz (need/necessity/restraint). Now if he had been looking at the runes specifically, that would be a good assertion since they are associated with witchcraft. But no, Phil, you were just judging their shrine thing.

Personally, if I was a deity (or demi-god), I’d have humans worship me; they are the perfect worshippers because though we can be brave, we can also really not be though it didn’t seem to work out here since the one who was marked a coward found courage within himself.

Cowardice

The main character, Luke, is marked as a coward by the creature who sifts through his consciousness/dreams. And what’s odd about the way this deity chooses people is that it has rendered all of these men to be cowards with its dark presence; we find them pissing themselves, crying in a corner, naked and submitting to it. You would think they’d all make the cut of coward when it appears since we see the deity combing their dreams and/or memories, which brings the humans to such states of disarray. Not much bravery to be seen here, mates. Denial also seems to be a main theme for Luke; he wraps himself in it, convinces himself of whatever he’s hiding from that it simply isn’t that way.

Also, the commentary on this man’s “manhood” is going over my head; as a cis-gender woman, I’ve never felt the need to jump in and be the hero or that it was ever expected of me (gender roles are weird). This man is wracked with guilt over what the didn’t do to help his friend; my thought process on the whole situation is that fear can be paralyzing no matter the gender. Shock makes people act strangely and even completely different in times of extreme stress/fear. We also see isolation of the coward as theme; supernatural entities (that are malicious, anyway) tend to separate the person they want from a larger group. Survival of the fittest as a theme also emerges; Luke, though cowardly at one crucial moment in his life, is the fittest to survive this nightmare.

The Forest as Threatening

We also see the forest almost like its own character come up in a lot of such stories; Robert Frost wrote that, “the woods are lovely, dark, and deep”-well, sometimes. The forest is magical at times but usually threatening in horror. A place covered by trees makes one think of hiding something from sight or it makes one wonder who is in the forest with you if the threat is human (this trope comes up in thrillers); the fog adds to this effect. The trees give me this net-like vibe, like they’re prey caught in this thing’s web/trap. The runes carved into the trees denote this new deity’s connection to Norse mythology and also seem to show ownership-this place is claimed.

“Well this is clearly the house we get murdered in.” I love self-aware commentary though really, the friends die throughout the forest. The house functions a little like the Blair Witch house as an omen of bad things to come, complete with a shrine to the child Loki didn’t seem to want (why else would it be so obsessed with itself? That’s not a loved kid right there.)

The music adds another layer of visceral fear; almost like that insistent voice inside yourself telling you something is wrong growing louder combined with an inhuman sound as cacophony-fear of the forest/fear of being surrounded by nothing but trees on all sides, unable to see the threat as it comes. There is no escape.

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