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Interview: Arsher Ali and Sam Troughton on the Making of 'The Ritual'

February 8, 2018Ben MK

They may be known for their ties to the Doctor Who universe, but Arsher Ali and Sam Troughton have more in common than just Britain's beloved Time Lord.

In The Ritual (read our review here), the duo play one half of a group of old university friends who reunite in the wilds of Northern Sweden a year after the tragic death of one of their former schoolmates. But when they and their two other friends (Rafe Spall and Robert James-Collier) take a shortcut through a foreboding forest, the four find themselves not only haunted by guilt, but hunted by something... supernatural.

I caught up with the pair after The Ritual's North American premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, to chat about the film and their experience making it.

What really struck me about the movie was the psychological aspect. And it's based on the book, of course. So did you guys read the book before you started filming?

Ali: I read the book. But it's a very dense book, about 500 plus pages. Really, really goes a lot into the characters and the relationships and explores the occult, pagan side of things. But [the film] is a skillful adaptation of it.

Troughton: I dunno, I felt that the script was full enough. I didn't necessarily have that many questions and I thought if I read the book it'd just take me out of the script.

There's a Predator-type of vibe to it as well.

Ali: I didn't think of that, but then I thought, yeah, actually, it is kind of.

Troughton: Yeah, Predator without guns.

The monster in the film — the Equine Nordic Beast — is kind of unique. Aside from its visual design, what do you think makes it so creepy and effective?

Troughton: It's a great shot when that house is burning and you get the first shot of it. I mean, that is magnificent. [The director] David [Bruckner] talked about it having this totally amoral, sort of almost like vanity to itself. It sort of does what it wants. There's no reasoning with it; it's not human. And I suppose the sort of ultimate of that is Alien; there is no conviction with this thing. [laughs] Predator is attracted to violent quarry, and this is attracted to pain. And we certainly get its attention.

Ali: I think the fact that you don't see it... I mean, the one thing that I really didn't like about Super 8 was that you saw the thing very early on, and after that it just kind of falls apart. Whereas we kind of save it and you get the fleeting glimpses. And also that you see little parts of it. I love that it's such a huge thing, but you only see a tiny bit of it, and the tiny bits are revealed as you go along. So when you do see it, and it stands on its hind legs and unfurls, it's like, "Fucking whoa..."

How would you compare the horror genre to the other genres you've worked in?

Troughton: I think there's a boldness to them, and when the script is decent and the characters have got depth. I did Alien vs. Predator. It wasn't that good. It was just nice being in one that, I think, delivers. Cuz Alien vs. Predator is a bit more of a sort of comic book action than horror.

Ali: There's a lot more gore. There's a lot more bits. For me, I'm not a huge fan of horror films. But this felt like something else. You know, it felt like a Deliverance-style, psychological exploration of a bunch of guys [and] what happens when you're faced with dangers... and then the supernatural element pervades the entire thing. I can't think of another film where I've been screaming into the floor till I've lost my voice. Or whatever, waking up naked next to an effigy.

So was that the most challenging scene to film?

Ali: Yeah, that was a difficult scene. Actually quite a challenge as well, acting-wise, because what the hell would you do? David was very keen for us to go there...

Troughton: David, when we shot it though, his notes were great, and he sort of took his time. And of course in film, you're only looking to hit something once and then you can cut it together.

How did you get into the right mindset for your roles then?

Ali: I think if anything, with something quite darkly nightmarish and psychological [the key] is to keep kind of light. It wasn't terribly intense. If anything, the scarier the moment you're filming, the funnier it is, really.

How about your experience filming in Transylvania?

Troughton: Generally, you know, in England, there's not that much wilderness left, really. And to be in the middle of it was stunning. Absolutely stunning. So a pretty decent way to spend a day at work.

What about your other upcoming projects?

Troughton: I just finished shooting with Mike Leigh and his new film, Peterloo, which is coming out next year. But [laughs] with a Mike Leigh film, you don't necessarily know whether you'll be in it. So hopefully... It's got Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake. But of course, the way Mike shoots, I never met any of these guys.

Peterloo is an event that happened in Manchester, an electoral rally that was broken up by the authorities, and it left 19 people dead. And it eventually led to the beginning of the vote for all, which was men first, obviously, and then women later. But an aptly timed movie, and I think it'll be quite an exciting film.

The Ritual begins streaming February 9th on Netflix.

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