There's an ancient beastie that likes to kill - and four Brits just walked into its forest...
Four British chums went trekking one day, through Swedish terrain far away, one silly bloke said “This looks sure to be a quicker way” – how many of the friends will make it through the first day?
Actually, they all survive the first day in the “virgin” forest. A suggested shortcut to alleviate the symptoms of sedentary life for two of the former university friends, Dom and Phil, turns out not to be a shortcut so much as an opportunity for Hutch (the group leader) to get them all well and truly… lost. The life drop-out, Luke, is the first to pick up on the feeling of foreboding that permeates the congested wildness of the forest they find themselves in; and being confronted with a dead creature hanging from a tree, its innards on full view and mutilated beyond recognition, provides the first frisson of fear for the unlucky group. Something powerful and dangerously sentient is stalking them like prey – will they make their way out of the ancient forest alive?
The Ritual is Nevill’s second horror novel calling on the supernatural to provide the psychological chill factor, just as in Apartment 16. This time, however, the threat is in a more tangible, if somewhat incongruous, form. Relying heavily on the classic horror plot where individuals are picked off spectacularly one by one – and crucially, later displayed in a similar vein to the original poor creature they stumbled upon – there is a certain predictability to the narrative. The discovery of decrepit buildings with crucifixes covering the walls and the disturbing presence of a goat sitting upright with human arms sewn in place of its front hoofs adds another terrifying dimension to the story, one that endeavours to make sense of the novel’s title. Unfortunately, despite finding a impossible cemetery, a ruined church holding a mass grave under its creaky, rotten boards and Luke’s eventual capture by a group of obnoxious cult wannabes only serves to draw out the inevitable endgame, rather than heighten the fear.
The Ritual is horrifying. We are primordially programmed to fear beasties that go slash in the night. But the beast itself is too vague in the end to be entirely satisfying a monster; it’s bigger than a man, but is pretty much still just a goat. True, goats have undeniably creepy, evil eyes – but do they have the opposable thumbs necessary to string out a mangled corpse in a tree with sufficient skill to prevent it from simply slipping straight off again? Hoofed feet aren’t exactly compatible with scrambling up trees either. Luke scared us more than the shadowed, mystical beasty thing. Human beings are the most terrifying creatures we know of, and I think Nevill manages to make that point loud and clear.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012