On Friday, Netflix released a trailer for the horror film The Ritual. And while the trailer shows viewers a terrifying look at a hiking trip gone bad, it also illuminates something interesting about horror and representation. Gender has always played a role in horror; whether they appeared at the forefront or were erased from the narrative, the inclusion or exclusion of gender in a film tells us so much about the state of culture.
In the trailer, we meet old friends Dom, Phil, Luke, and Hutch as they decide to take a trip together after burying their now passed friend. They decide to hike through the Swedish wilderness (creepy choice, dudes), where an accident forces them to cut through the forest. There, they are greeted by an ancient evil.
Over the last few years, we've seen horror and thriller films take a turn towards more psychological, socially conscious themes. Last year's Get Out helped to bring these ideas to the mainstream, as the film focused on horror through a racial lens while giving its female cast strong (if complicit) roles. Upcoming films like Breaking In, starring Gabrielle Union, follow this tradition and take this a step further by placing the action of the film on the shoulders of a mother's worst nightmare, highlighting the way men underestimate women. In both Get Out and Breaking In, we see the horror in these films come from the reality of marginalised people. They terrify us because they could happen (and have happened) time and time again.
While The Ritual, in which the men are hunted by an unseen monster, hints at witchcraft and/or black magic. But, it doesn't make a woman the villain, that we know of, despite the historical intertwining of women and witchcraft.
The psychological horrors of the film are also of note because they conjure up questions of what horror is: where it comes from and what happens when the things that scared us before no longer exist. When we see one of the characters with a scratched chest in what looks to be an attack by the evil that looms over the group. But when he shows it to the other men, the response from one of his friends alludes quite literally to gaslighting. He says, "Nothing has done that to you. You've done that to yourself."
Maybe what we can expect from The Ritual and similar films is that horror has evolved to explore what shape evil takes in the minds of men. At the Salem Witch Trials, there were no witches, though that didn't stop them from assuming women were to justify the actions that followed. What is terrifying here, as The Ritual alludes to, is how the fear of men can lead all sorts of horrors manifesting.
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