THE RITUAL (15)

The Hangover downs shots with Deliverance and The Blair Witch Project, and blood flows more readily than the booze, in David Bruckner's horror thriller.

Laced with Nordic mythology and laddish banter, The Ritual is a grim tale of hapless thirtysomething pals, who get horribly lost in a Scandinavian forest and come face-to-face with a malevolent force that drives them to the brink of despair.

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You won't need a map and compass to navigate each twist in Joe Barton's script, adapted from the novel by Adam Nevill, or discern the order in which thinly sketched characters are most likely to meet a grisly demise.

The winding path to carnage is familiar and Bruckner's picture employs gallows humour to acknowledge these horror tropes as well as alleviate tension, like when the pals stumble into a tumbledown shack under the rain-sodden cloak of darkness and discover their temporary refuge is festooned with ancient runes.

"This is clearly the house we get murdered in," quips one of the gang.

"It's not as bad as our uni accommodation," retorts another, hoping to lighten the mood of grim foreboding as lightning flashes through broken windows.

Tragedy stalks early scenes as five drinking buddies - Dom (Sam Troughton), Hutch (Robert James-Collier), Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali) and Rob (Paul Reid) - fail to agree on a destination for their next lads' weekend.

They leave the pub and Luke and Rob pop into a late night off-licence to grab more booze.

Unwittingly, they walk into a bungled robbery.

Luke cowers unseen at the end of an aisle while Rob faces the thieves and is hacked to death for refusing to hand over his ring.

Six months later, the remaining quartet heads to northern Sweden to honour Rob's memory by hiking through the barren, picturesque wilderness.

"You know what they have on walking trails in England?" whines Dom. "Pubs."

He subsequently twists an ankle and alpha male Hutch suggests they head back to their lodge by taking a short cut through a dense forest.

Ignoring a signpost that reads This Is A Very Bad Idea, likely lads Hutch, Luke, Phil and an increasingly ill-tempered Dom head southwest through the tightly packed trees.

As night falls and thunder rumbles overhead, tempers fray and the four friends are plagued by nightmarish visions that gnaw away at their sanity.

The Ritual resists the temptation for cheap, jump-out-of-your-seat scares to focus on a sustained build-up of tension.

Bruckner's approach works, tickling our discomfort until the underwritten characters' fears are realised in a climactic bloodbath augmented with digital effects.

Pleasing on-screen rapport between the central quartet, who trade potty-mouthed barbs with relish, papers over some of the more ludicrous and fantastical aspects of the plot.

Realism takes a hike and is never seen again.

RATING: 6/10

THE SNOWMAN (15)

There's little chance of audiences confusing Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's The Snowman with the charming animated film that has been a staple of festive TV schedules for more than 30 years.

One is a perfect distillation of childhood wonder torn lovingly from the pages of Raymond Briggs' picture book, the other is a ham-fisted detective yarn with ice rather than blood in its veins, adapted from a gripping novel by Jo Nesbo.

Based on the seventh installment in a best-selling series featuring Norwegian detective Harry Hole, this clumsily constructed Snowman cannot muster a single flurry of tension over the course of two glacial hours that feel closer to three.

It is hard to believe that the gifted filmmaker, who had us biting nails down to the cuticle with the vampire coming-of-age story Let The Right One In and Oscar-nominated Cold War thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, could be responsible for this pile of snowballs.

A mild case of frostbite might be favourable to shivering with boredom through Alfredson's anaemic hunt for a diabolical serial killer, who strikes during the first winter snowfall.

Dramatic momentum is frozen solid from the chilly opening frames and Michael Fassbender's lifeless lead performance as a grizzled detective battling alcoholism fails to thaw our sympathy.

Harry (Fassbender) is at the mercy of his addiction - a disease, which has driven away his girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her teenage son Oleg (Michael Yates).

It's little wonder Rakel has sought refuge in the arms of a strait-laced and reliable doctor (Jonas Karlsson).

Harry's toxic relationship with the bottle also negatively impacts his ability to function at work and he craves a complex case to temporarily quell his demons.

"I apologise for Oslo's low murder rate," dryly retorts his superior, DCI Gunnar Hagen (Ronan Vibert).

Stumbling into work in a bleary-eyed daze, Harry meets detective Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), a recent transfer from Bergen.

They are called to the home of Birte Becker (Sofia Helin), who has vanished shortly after an argument with her husband (James D'Arcy).

A creepy snowman stands facing the Becker house, and a trawl through police archives exhumes a series of unsolved cases involving mothers, who disappeared or were murdered at the same time of year.

Flashbacks to an earlier investigation involving hard-drinking detective Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer), philanthropist Arve Stop (J K Simmons) and plastic surgeon Idar Vetlesen (David Dencik) begin to join the blood-soaked jots.

However, the diabolical killer is one step ahead of Harry and Katrine.

The Snowman is a poor distillation of Nesbo's page-turner, starved of suspense or any emotional connection to the characters.

Frenetic editing renders one pivotal fight sequence incomprehensible and with each clearly telegraphed twist, Alfredson is incapable of shifting out of first gear.

Unthinkably, he's built an abominable Snowman.

RATING: 4/10

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE (U)

For more than 60 years, LEGO building bricks have unlocked the imaginations of the young and the perpetually young at heart. Fantastical new worlds rise and fall as the brightly coloured blocks are slotted together and pulled apart, reused in seemingly endless combinations.

The spirit of reconstruction runs deep in The LEGO Ninjago Movie, the third computer-animated adventure in the rapidly expanding franchise.

Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan's film lazily bolts together themes from The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie to explore a strained father-son dynamic against a backdrop of martial arts mayhem.

The riotous, barnstorming comedy of the first two films has been heavily diluted and a live-action framing device featuring Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan as the owner of a mystical shop feels like an obvious stylistic conceit.

Polished one-liners are disappointingly thin on the brick-plated ground and vocal performances fail to elevate the material above the parapet of mediocrity.

A linear quest for a mysterious artefact called The Ultimate, Ultimate Weapon provides a flimsy hook for the toy box tomfoolery, and should hold the attention of very young audiences who are already familiar with the lucrative Ninjago brand.

Parents and older fans of the construction sets face a much sterner test to remain engaged for the full 101 minutes.

High school student Lloyd Garmadon (voiced by Dave Franco) lives in the brick city of Ninjago with his mother Koko (Olivia Munn).

Classmates despise Lloyd because his estranged father, Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), is an evil despot, who repeatedly attacks the city in elaborate shark-themed contraptions.

Thankfully, Ninjago is protected at all times by the Secret Ninja Force, an elite team trained by Master Wu (Chan), mantra-spouting brother of Lord Garmadon and author of must-read manual Ninjanuity.

City residents are blissfully unaware that the leader of the SNF, the Green Ninja, is Lloyd and the other members of this heroic squad include fellow students Cole (Fred Armisen), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (Michael Pena), Nya (Abbi Jacobson) and Zane (Zach Woods).

The SNF repels Lord Garmadon's latest attack by combining the elemental powers of earth, ice, water, fire and lightning.

The black-helmeted archvillain vows revenge.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie is a flying kick too far for the brand and feels like a glossy exercise in corporate self-promotion rather than a fully fledged cinematic feature.

One flashback to Lord Garmadon's courtship of Koko - "It was love at first fight!" - warrants a weak smile but too many punchlines fail to connect.

The pungent air of staleness pervades, exacerbated by a paucity of sly visual gags and pithy pop culture references.

"When I return, I'll have something really wicked in store for you!" guffaws the Lord Garmadon early in the film.

He fails to deliver.

RATING: 5/10

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