The Ritual Killer follows Detective Boyd (Cole Hauser, Yellowstone), who, unable to process the death of his daughter, embarks on the hunt for a serial killer who murders according to a brutal tribal ritual: Muti. The only person who can help Boyd is Professor Mackles (Morgan Freeman, Se7en), an anthropologist who is hiding an unspeakable secret. The line between sanity and madness thins as Boyd goes deeper into the killer’s world.
Detective Lucas Boyd (Hauser) is on the verge of retirement. However, he’s also driven by inner torment following the loss of his daughter. As a result, he has no choice but to team up with a professor of African Studies (Freeman) to track down a serial killer who performs an ancient black magic practice. The murders, with young teenagers as the victims, are connected to a dark corner of traditional South African folk medicine known as “Muti.” It involves “ritual” cutting and the use of body parts in witchcraft. Eventually, investigators start to link murders in Rome, Italy, to Clinton, Mississippi. This is where Randoku (Davis), an African traveler, on the payroll of affluent clients, believes that specific body parts from his victims will grant them mystical benefits.
The Redbox Alert in the headline of this review is no lie. The main lead character has a dark past/dark secret/inner demons? Check. Said character is played by a B-movie/withering career/TV actor? Check. The main supporting character(s) are played by recognized, possibly credible, character actor(s). Another Check. Other supporting cast recruited from local school/amateur dramatics society, or have won a competition? Yep. Action scenes are poorly shot, poorly choreographed, and edited so they look like a filmed first rehearsal. That too. Villain shows incompetence but gets away with it due to incompetent heroes? Done. Does the storyline use ultra-violence/gore/the mystical as USP/hook? Check. All logic is abandoned about two-thirds of the way through to make for a rushed, confusing finale. Absolutely. An unfathomable amount of writers/producers? Check (6/18 respectively). An instantly forgettable (apart from a short-lived) bitter aftertaste? Another check. Here we have The Ritual Killer.
Hauser is receiving deserved plaudits for his turn on Paramount’s Yellowstone. However, he will likely not be receiving many for this everyman, trigger-happy loner cop, who shoots a ‘probably guilty’ child abuser in the head in his introductory scene. He obviously was feeling that he had a role in which he could sink his teeth into. This was due to his character’s dark past. Freeman, once again, is being paid to speak lines with the gravitas that he still has rattling around his worryingly diminishing frame. Here, he has the role of a university professor, specializing in African Black Magic (is there a big call for careers in this field?), who is there to inform the audience of the reasoning behind the rituals of the killer.
Inexplicably, we also have Stormare’s constantly infuriated “Captain.” Perhaps he has gotten tired of Hauser’s lone wolf renegade always storming out on him. The film itself is difficult and very uncomfortable to watch. Not only due to the lack of quality on show across the board – but the subject matter. We witness young teenagers being abducted (in broad daylight) and then are forced to spend time with them in the killer’s dark dungeons, watching them whimper and weep before their gratuitous and downright nasty onscreen mutilation and murder. Other, better films show only the aftermath of the atrocity, leaving the audience to scare themselves by having to think the unthinkable. This film is grotesque in its indulgence and is best avoided.
Exploitative and unpleasant, Ritual Killer is an ugly, uninspired mess that does not even conjure disappointment in the viewer. Additionally, with a film credited to six screenwriters and eighteen producers, one can only imagine the creative notes being passed around and seemingly leading to a number of notes that may suggest actually capitalizing on the possibly intriguing story elements (black magic, ancient witchcraft) getting lost in the Mississippi.
The Ritual Killer, directed by George Gallo and starring Morgan Freeman and Cole Hauser is scheduled to be released by Screen Media in theaters and on-demand on March 10, 2023.
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