20th Nov2020

‘The Ringmaster’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Anne Bergfeld, Karin Michelsen, Damon Younger, Kristoffer Fabricius, Mads Koudal, Kim Sønderholm, Gustav Scavenius | Written by Søren Juul Petersen, Carsten Juul Bladt | Directed by Søren Juul Petersen

Denmark is not really known for genre fare, even if it counts one of the hardest working independent genre actors today, Kim Sonderholm, who also appears in The Ringmaster (aka Finale), among its number. In fact it’s been over 4 years since the last (unless you count the genre-esque output of Lars Von Trier), Kasper Juhl’s Monstrosity. Now Søren Juul Petersen’s film looks to put Denmark on the horror map once again, with a film that isn’t afraid to actually be horrific!

Set on the day that Denmark has reached the finals of the European Championships and everyone is glued to their TVs, Finale takes place, for the most part, at a small petrol station on the edge of town. This is where Agnes, on her final shift, before heading to Germany to start a new life, and Belinda work. They’re hoping, given the countries pre-occupation with the big game, for a quiet night but instead it turns out THEY have been chosen as players in an alltogether more gruesome game… and no customers means no witnesses.

Horror comes in all shapes and sizes – and yes, that includes those so-called “thrillers” that Hollywood refuses to pigeonhole as genre fare. But horror, in its rawest forms, was always uncomfortable viewing pushing the audience to their limits. That’s why the genre appeals, that’s where the genre pushes boundaries and that’s why there’s nothing quite like a horror movie. And under those terms The Ringmaster is most-certainly a HORROR movie.

Described as “challenging”, The Ringmaster is actually nothing of the sort. It is instead an old-school horror movie filled with evil men doing unspeakable, and more importantly horrific, things to their victims. That their victims here are two women seems to be where the “challenging” tag has come from. For woe betide any film sticks to the tropes of the genre and has female victims right?! I get that we’re supposed to have moved on from having women terrorised by evil men but sometimes, as is the case here, its fine to go with tradition and have women as the victims; after all where would horror be without the “final girl” trope? It’s a testament to the trope and to The Ringmaster itself, that the audience is rooting for the protagonists to survive and even more, get their comeuppance on their torturers.

And yes I did say torturers; because The Ringmaster features prolonged torture sequences come the second half, sequences which recall the likes of Hostel. In fact The Ringmaster is unexpectedly brutal. Brutal, in the “would normally be resigned to a DVD or streaming debut,” kind of brutal. Brutal in the sense that this film wouldn’t be out of place amongst a genre fans Unearthed Films collection. And given how timid distributors are these days to the more extreme end of horror cinema (the rise of censorship once again across the globe doesn’t help), it’s commendable that Jinga Films’ new horror label Danse Macabre gave this film a chance AND a cinema screening (no matter how short a window) – in its homeland The Ringmaster has gone straight to streaming for example. Yet it deserves so much better.

It’s not all about the torture of course. Like all good horror The Ringmaster has plenty to say about civilisation’s obsession with recording every aspect of their lives, be it via CCTV or the internet; the seedier side of the [dark] web and even – much like Level 16 before it – the divides in society between the haves and have-nots and how privilege and power more often than not corrupts.

Based on a solid core, namely actresses Anne Bergfeld and Karin Michelsen as Agnes and Belinda respectively; a truly villainous antagonist in The Ringmaster, played by Icelandic actor Damon Younger; and a script, story and structure that made for tense viewing, The Ringmaster feels like a breath of old-school horror fresh air in a sea of horror-thrillers and “elevated horror” and as such it’s very welcome, and richly needed.

***** 5/5

The Ringmaster will be available on DVD & Digital Download from 30th November, courtesy of Danse Macabre.

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