On the night of the biggest sports final in Denmark’s history, Agnes (Anne Bergfield) is dropped off at her father’s remote service station for one last shift. The evening begins as normal alongside her colleague Belinda (Karin Michelson), albeit quieter as the nation’s eyes are glued to the sporting event. But as time passes the two begin to experience strange occurrences around their workplace, each more unnerving than the last. As figures come and go throughout the evening, Agnes and Belinda find themselves plunging perilously into a nightmare that they could never have imagined.
The Ringmaster – adapted from Steen Langstrup’s award-winning novel Finale – bears no shame in admitting its blood-curdling intent. Opening with a monologue that offers prior warning that what is about to be witnessed is not for the faint-hearted, the film announces this caution clearly as its timeline-hopping narrative unravels. The story begins as a psychological horror – then takes a deliciously sadistic twist as the drama unfolds and stakes rise when the protagonists are removed from the confines of the petrol station and thrust into an abstract, frightening circus.
A slow, predictable burner in the first act, The Ringmaster comes across staccato in its dialogue to begin with, not flowing particularly gracefully and presenting numerous on the nose exchanges. All this changes however as the film steadily builds layers and turns something seemingly low budget and amateurly written into a gripping and brutal action drama. Each character brings their own touch to the story whether it be level-headedness, comedy or spine-chilling sadism. Praise must be given to the cast for bringing this methodical script to life. Bergfield and Michelson deliver a believable dynamic worth rooting for, but the standout performance comes from Icelandic actor Damon Young. Quite spectacular in his portrayal of the ringmaster, he induces fear and unpredictability into his every movement.
The overall crux of the plot is indeed terrifying and engaging, clearly developed and manifested through hours of work in Langstrup’s book. It is just a shame however that the journey to get there feels anything but natural: forced and crowbarred at every turn. Director Søren Juul Petersen does his best to bring these early scenes to life and is aided by a high-quality score from Peter K Nørgaard, but until the riveting sense of erratic danger ensues, the film wanders along at a simplistic and unchallenging pace.
However, should you be a fan of the blood-and-guts horror genre and in the mood for a slashing thriller, then The Ringmaster may well be worth the wait for you once the sudden uplifting escalation arrives, not least to witness Young’s menacing performance.
The Ringmaster is released digitally on demand on 30th November and in select cinemas on 2nd December 2020.
Watch the trailer for The Ringmaster here: