The Ringmaster (2018), also known as Finale is a Danish horror film by director Søren Juul Petersen. It revolves around two female gas station attendants who are kidnapped by a ringmaster who forces them to take part in a gory game show for an online stream.
In part, the film, showed a lot of desire; desire to be more that it really is. It Begins by referencing the 1931 classic horror film Frankenstein. Just like the classic, the opening scene shows a man in front of theatre curtains giving a “friendly word of warning” to the audience on what they’re about to witness. Not only did this intrigue me as a horror fan but set an unprecedentedly high bar.
In fact, throughout the film, this desire is what drives the film forward and helps it to appeal to horror fans globally. It is there, unfortunately, where the positives are laid to rest. It proceeds with a ridiculously non-linear narrative that must be criticised. While the desire of the film is very attractive, at times it tries much too hard. The strange narrative of the film flicks forwards and backwards in time, giving it a failed and quirky director feel to it. It seems that as soon as it gets to the good part of the film, we are plunged right back into the gas station, of which has already bored us to death for too much of the film.
The film has so much that it wants to shove down the audience’s throat. Yet so little is appetizing. The film lacks any profound meaning, yet has the desire to stomp past horror classics like Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) in the horror hierarchy. It tries way too hard to be edgy with its directorial style and enigmatic characters. The film hits way past the mark, coming across as childish and too playful for its own good.
At times, the characters in the film seem to belong in some idealized Stephen King film rather than in a hard-hitting European grit-fest like the characters from Martyrs (2008) and Irréversible (2022). I can see them as animated caricatures in a Disney movie, giving the film a horribly cartoon feel and removing any indication of horror and grit. They then try replacing it with a boring ringmaster trying too hard to be the horror world’s next Hostel (2005).
A Long, Long Night
Dread is crucial element in a horror film. It prove so crucial that if done wrong even for a even moment, it can ruin the whole film. The Ringmaster, unfortunately, did it wrong for most of the film.
When watching a horror film, I want to get to the good bit, view a bit of horror and gore and enjoy watching the main event. Of course, none of that is sweet enough if I haven’t endured a bit of dread, however. Think The Blair Witch Project (1999), It Follows (2014), The Babadook (2014) – all great films for tolling dread upon an audience. But, I have never felt boredom as suffocating as the “building dread” of this film. The gas station setting just goes on for way too long, as though the director knew the runtime for the film was too short.
It was honestly mind-numbing at times, forcing me through scenes unrelated to the plot. It took forever to get to the good bit, and even then, kept jumping back. The film tries to build up dread in all the wrong areas, placing characters in situations that add substance no substance to the plot.
In this gas station scene, there’s at least three, probably four characters which build dread as well as Spongebob and Patrick. They bore with line as dull as the colour grey, not adding a hint of dread into the storyline. Any impact to the audience came in the unfortunate form of annoying them blind. Think of a film like my Southbound (2015). As one of my favorite films, it offers a creepy insight into the deep dark desert that stands as a much more horrific metaphor with dwelling shots of the open desert, and the abandoned motel, the characterizations of speechless customers in the café.
That is how you build dread – show the audience something they’re not used to. The Ringmaster feels like a cheap joke to the world of horror and it spits in the face of its own desires through laziness to write a proper horror film with real dread and genuine horror.
A Horror Circus
After the gas station, I thought it could only get better from there. Being split up into acts, like a perverted play, the torture of three innocent people is streamed online for viewers to see, as well as having a live audience behind one-way glass.
It seemed the main theme of the film revolves around cameras and surveillance considering the torture streamed online, the cameras in the gas station at the beginning and (spoilers) when she gets away at the end. This subtext can potentially be seen as a positive about the film by putting forth the concept that the protagonist is constantly being watched.
However, for the rest of this second half of the film, it is pretty much just “torture porn”. The Ringmaster fails to offer much plot development as it seems to utilizes gore and torture just for the sake of it. They forsake their voyeuristic sub-plot and fail to drive home their them of ubiquitous cameras. Personally, I don’t think there was enough there to make a satisfactory plot or means for violence. It seemed to be violence for violence sake and the reasons for it were barely explored at all. Why were they streaming this torture? Who is watching? What is the significance of that?
The antagonist of the film, a greased up mad hatter with the on-screen presence of a high school teenager, plays the role of ‘The Ringmaster’. His performance, along with the rest of the film, proved quite boring to watch, providing neither a comedic villain (Freddy Krueger) nor a stomach-churning killer that makes your insides move before they’ve even been ripped out (Leatherface). The character tried too hard to be funny and too hard to be frightening, leaving him stale in both areas. Likewise, he betrays his desire to be The Ringmaster of an edgy cult classic.
The internet stream described The Ringmaster as a “horror circus”. I couldn’t tell whether this described the acting, the directing or the script. In the end, it was a crude performance of all three. Perhaps, the word circus best describes the experience.
The Ringmaster (2018) aka Finale - A Cringeworthy Circus of Violence - Malevolent Dark
Director: Søren Juul Petersen
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33