The Ritual Killer, 2023.
Directed by George Gallo.
Starring Cole Hauser, Morgan Freeman, Peter Stormare, Vernon Davis, Virginia Dru Bramblett, Julie Lott, Paul Sampson, Murielle Hilaire, Ron Goleman, Brian Kurlander, and Lara Pictet.
A detective on the verge of retirement teams with a professor of African Studies to track down a serial killer who is performing the ancient black magic practice of Muti.
Every once in a while, a film that is so morally ugly and despicably ill-advised calls into question how and why someone let it get made. In the case of director George Gallo’s serial killer thriller The Ritual Killer (working from a small army of screenwriters that I don’t blame for not being able to construct the narrative in an engaging way that makes sense), the biggest shock is how exploitative, pointlessly nasty, racist, gratuitously graphic, poorly conceived, stunningly dumb, and ridiculous the film is willing to sink.
This movie is the cinematic equivalent of the “hold my beer” meme, one-upping itself with absurd twists during its final 15 minutes, played out with appallingly bad performances. There’s morally bankrupt, and then there is The Ritual Killer, an abhorrent experience.
To put this into perspective, The Ritual Killer centers on homicide detective Lucas Boyd (Cole Hauser, whose entire performance hinges on embarrassing bullying law enforcement machismo), who the story justifies as righteously murdering a likely guilty suspect. Within the first 10 minutes, George Gallo has encouraged police brutality and seems to think these guys are saints regardless of the bullshit tortured background he gives the character, which culminates in a reveal so silly and overacted I just wanted to laugh because there’s no taking anything seriously here no matter how tragic the incidents are.
Also, when the big reveal hinges on your character falling asleep at a pivotable moment, it’s a sign that either the screenwriters stopped trying because even they know this is garbage, or maybe they are as awful as George Gallo. I have no idea or desire to find out, although the filmmaker has several more movies set for release (cry for me).
Things only get more uncomfortable as the serial killer previously terrorizing London (there’s a worthless subplot involving another detective that only exists to feed Lucas information at a convenient time) and now running amok in America happens to be Randoku (Vernon Davis), an African man extending his knowledge of the ancient black magic Muti, servicing it to wealthy clients believing that specific body parts from these victims will grant them mystical benefits.
It goes about as well as you think an older white man exploring African black magic would, which is disastrous with no real interest in cultural specificity, the character, or the world. The script also abandons all logic (not that there was much, to begin with) by having a supposedly crafty serial killer blow his cover and slash people’s throats in broad daylight. His entire plan for seeking out victims is astoundingly dumb, calling so much attention to himself.
George Gallo seems to think that by introducing a sleepy Morgan Freeman as a university professor specializing in African black magic, all is forgiven for delivering such a hollow explanation of the serial killer’s motives and methods. Even if it was able to, Lucas’ ghastly presence as a protagonist becomes grosser as the story goes on. Nothing is worth complementing here besides that it technically plays on the screen and is watchable. The Ritual Killer starts offensively bad but somehow continues to dig a bigger hole from there until its asinine, idiotic ending.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com