Well, it’s October, Friday 13th, and opening night in the UK for The Ritual. Tonight’s viewing in Cheltenham will be a special occasion for me. I’m going to see the film with two of my old mates from university, who I met in 1990 – Ben Calvert and Hugh Simmons – who both took part in a disastrous camping trip in Wales in 1993: a cursed expedition that first gave birth to the idea of the book. I’d never have written the novel had we not taken that trip.
Our trip occurred in March and as we trudged across fields to find a deciduous wood in a remote rural landscape to pitch our tent, it was getting dark, the temperature plummeted, it began to snow … my landrover was almost out of petrol too (it did 12 miles to the gallon and the heater was broken), and when we eventually found the wood it was ghastly. Impenetrable bracken and neck-high nettles and two dead sheep hanging from branches in the treeline. To this day, we refer to that wood as “The Blasted Heath”. If a natural feature of a landscape can exude pure menace that wood did.
In darkness, we reached a farm, knocked on the door and the kind farmer let us camp in his garden … I then spent the coldest night of my life, squashed into Ben’s back to extract as much of his body warmth as I could. I was shaking so hard that even my teeth were chattering. One member of the four man, all male party, kicked over the water on his way inside the tent. It was frozen solid by morning.
We never learned our lesson because years later here I am with Hugh camping in the Lake District, and walking the South Devon coastal path with Ben. But I stored away the experience of the original camping disaster in my memory, and conjured it back to life in 2008, when I began work on a novel, between 10pm and midnight: a story about men in crisis on a lad’s reunion holiday, in the wilderness beneath the arctic circle in Sweden. I wanted the story to be imagined by the reader as a film and I wanted every page to be a matter of life and death for the characters. It was an experiment. I had no publisher. Originally the novel was titled ‘Children of the Beast’.
In 2009, John Jarrold found a home for the book at Pan Macmillan, who published the novel in 2011. Julie Crisp was the commissioning editor.
In 2017, after three options and 5 years in development, the film adaptation of that novel opens nationwide in the UK as a theatrical release.
I’m genuinely in awe of the Romanian film crew (cast and crew of 160), all of the producers, with extra special thanks to Will Tenant and Richard Holmes, and THE post-prod staff of Imaginarium, the director and screenwriter, the first class cast, and the marvellous promotional campaign and funding from eOne. In fact anyone who contributed to getting this film made and properly promoted will always have my unwavering respect and gratitude. So many moving parts, so many variables, a tough endurance shoot at an altitude of 7000 feet in Transylvania (that was investigated by a rogue bear), with long shoots in freezing temperatures, but hey, they did it.
The rest is down to the viewers of the film. But as a disclaimer, if you don’t like it, and some folks won’t like it, don’t be too hasty in telling me: the book was wrenched from my soul and the film was a monumental effort to make for 160 people plus. It also the first adaptation of my work, Imaginarium’s first feature and David Bruckner’s first full-length feature, so I’d say that it’s a special, talismanic film for many of us. The interpretation has stayed very faithful to the characters, situations, story, atmosphere and the spirit of the book. But it is not the book; it’s a creative work in its own right, from script to screen.
British leading cast and screenwriter, British producers and post prod’, Romanian crew, an American director – an international collaborative affair.
Many thanks to all who go and see it! I salute thee and hope you enjoy the film.
Meanwhile, I’m outta here for opening night and Bristol Horrorcon.