The Ringmaster, aka Finale, is a 2018 Danish horror feature film written and directed by Søren Juul Petersen. It is based on Steen Langstrups award-winning book from 2011 ‘Alt det hun ville ønske hun ikke forstod’ (Everything that she wished she did not understand’) and deals with themes involving man’s need for extreme entertainment and the opportunity to experience those desires as an anonymous voyeur. And it’s not for the faint-hearted either.
On a night when Denmark have reached the finals of a major football tournament, everyone is glued to their TVs. The streets are deserted, but in a gas station close to the border of Germany, two young women are working the night shift together. Agnes (Anne Bergfeld) is a student and this is to be her final shift before heading off to Germany to start a new life. Belinda (Karin Michelsen), meanwhile, doesn’t quite have her life together just yet.
Right from the opening scene, we get occasional glimpses of what’s in store for Agnes and Belinda. Trapped against her will in some kind of dark container, we see Agnes being dragged out by her hair, then later on being tied to a chair and punched in the face to silence her. These scenes are short, giving very little away at first, but providing us with just enough to know that, at some point later that evening, things are set to take a serious turn for the worse.
We spend some time getting to know Agnes and Belinda, resolving any tensions that exist between them and gradually forming a bond. But armed with the knowledge of what’s to come makes for a very intense first half, particularly when several strange events start to occur and begin to unsettle both women. There are also a handful of customers to deal with throughout the night, along with the appearance of Belinda’s deadbeat boyfriend Kenny, all of whom could be perfectly innocent but all managing to give off a feeling of potentially sinister intentions lurking within. One or more of these people could very well be responsible for the terror still to come, we just don’t know who, when and how.
The scenes involving Agnes in captivity increase in length as the movie progresses, gradually revealing the full extent of the extremely disturbing situation both women are destined to find themselves in. Held captive by someone dressed as a circus ringmaster (Damon Younger), they now find themselves the star of a terrifying show that’s being broadcast live on the dark web. A small number of select customers are watching live in person from behind a darkened glass screen, while thousands of online visitors begin logging on to enjoy the show – a terrifying game of life and death played out over three acts, all orchestrated by the ringmaster and with the unseen audience helping to decide their fate.
There’s social commentary dotted throughout The Ringmaster. Focus on the number of cameras being trained on our every movement at all times – in the gas station, on the forecourt, out in the streets – how our privacy is gradually being stripped away with the rise in technology and the ease in being able to access disturbing imagery on the internet.
The Ringmaster is a film of two halves. The first half is tense, well-acted, and I was gripped by the simplistic claustrophobic setting and the anticipation of what was yet to come. The second half is a lot more formulaic, featuring scenes of torture porn, something that I’m not a fan of. Some of these are uncomfortable to watch but an enjoyable bit of fight-back action towards the end was much more to my liking.
The other distinction between these two halves is in the language spoken – while the scenes in the gas station are spoken in Danish, both the ringmaster and the female providing the calming, rather disturbing voiceover for the live and online audience are speaking in English.
Despite the gratuitous violence, I found much to enjoy with The Ringmaster. The way the two halves overlapped helps to increase tension in the earlier, calmer scenes and I felt that worked extremely well, constantly keeping you guessing as to what was going to happen next.
The Ringmaster will be available on DVD & Digital Download from 30th November & In UK Cinemas from 2nd December
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