The Danish aren’t known for horror movies. The Ringmaster recognises this, flashing a title card, which states how the Danes are recognised for being benevolent, giving the world the concept of hygge (Scandinavian for cosy). Director Søren Juul Petersen does his best to dispel this impression, with a low budget but highly effective affair that manages to build tension and disturb in equal measures.
Agnes (Anne Bergfeld) is studying psychology but works at her father’s petrol station part-time, she joins the unstable Belinda (Karin Michelsen) on a quiet night shift, as most people are watching Denmark in an unspecific sports final. We start to cut back and forth between the station, where a small group of unhinged characters visit (including Belinda’s deadbeat boyfriend) and a disturbing present, in which Agnes has been kidnapped and tortured by an unknown assailant. This technique builds the tension successfully, as we know that something is going to go seriously wrong, every false start putting us on edge even further.
Once the tension dissipates we finally see the crux of the matter, unseen customers using the dark web to watch Agnes and Belinda being tortured by the titular Ringmaster (who speaks in English, whereas the protagonist converse in Danish). The scenes are disturbing with some extreme violence and female nudity present, but nothing viewers of the Saw franchise haven’t seen before. Not everything works, there is a pointless introduction from a tenor channelling Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the film unsuccessfully tries to link Roman Gladiators to the sick online spectacle we have witnessed. Peterson must be applauded for skilled work though, if there is an opposite to hygge, he creates it here.
The Ringmaster is available on digital and DVD in the UK and Blu-ray in the US.