I’ve decided to work backwards in reviewing what I’ve read from the 50 Scariest Books list. It’ll be a nice work up to October.
I can’t tell you how much I love the “idiots lost in the woods” trope. It’s my favorite thing! (See: Suicide Forest.)
The particular idiots in The Ritual, woefully unprepared and not a little disdainful of each other, kick it off with the classic “Let’s take a shortcut!” cliche. Because no one in a horror story has ever read a horror story, this is accepted as a great idea that cannot go wrong. Except, have you ever hiked in the wilderness? Pointing a compass due south and heading in that direction isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds. There’s undergrowth. Trees. Rivers. Ravines. One thing that Nevill nails about an untamed forest is how hard it is to go off-trail.
So these fools are already in a dire situation (I mean, one of them is wearing jeans. A real hiker knows synthetics are the way to go). It’s about to get much worse. Because there’s something in the forest. Right? There’s always something in the forest. Someone. Or some…thing. And it’s got a seriously weird, ritualistic killing vibe.
Not to spoil it too much, but this book takes a hard left turn, and I mean a HARD LEFT TURN into some pretty outlandish territory. Let’s just say this group of dum-dums aren’t the biggest idiots in the forest. That title will be awarded to a teenage black metal band with an ultra-original penchant for animal masks and grandstanding.
As weird and mildly stupid as the novel gets, it did on occasion creep me out. There’s a certain horror in isolation, evocative of the idea of an afterlife that is nothingness. Our ancestors were the ones who survived the wilderness and solitude, and there is a primal memory in our genetic makeup that surfaces in dark, foreboding places, reminding us of the fear from which we were born.