The Search for the Worst Movie Ever: 'Ragnarok'
After the first installment of this series, you guys named candidates for possible worst movies ever, some of which I’ve banked for a rainy day in case there’s not a more timely release worth reviewing. I am attempting a methodology here, trying to stick to current(ish) titles, primarily available in theatrical/on demand release, with Netflix Instant as my back-up. I’m specifically looking for stuff that should be good, but isn’t working. A movie handicapped by its age (once upon a time, Tango & Cash was a good movie) or its origin (The Room never stood a chance) isn’t the same thing as a movie with every advantage that still manages to blow chunks.
This week’s offering is Ragnarok, a Norwegian import currently in limited theatrical release (please don’t pay premium prices for this twaddle) and available on demand. I had some hopes for this movie, for though it looks terrible, it comes from Magnet Releasing, a relatively reliable purveyor of horror. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some trash on their resume, but they’re also responsible for putting out Grand Piano, V/H/S, Europa Report, Hobo with a Shotgun, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, Big Bad Wolves, Rubber, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (a Hall of Fame personal favorite), and Trollhunter, which is a hugely enjoyable Norwegian movie. So I had some grounds for thinking Ragnarok might turn out okay.
It did not turn out okay.
Ragnarok starts with an interesting premise—archaeologists studying a Viking funeral site make a radical discovery—but anything resembling intrigue or mystery dies under the weight of a confused tone, boring execution, and a lousy script. At first it seems like it’s going to be a horror movie with supernatural elements—perhaps the mysterious Viking runes unlock a portal or something—then it shifts to an Indiana Jones-esque action/adventure complete with grave robbing and not one but TWO double-crossing assholes, and it ends up a rote creature feature. And the whole thing is totally defanged by being family friendly.
Ragnarok violates the cardinal sin of filmmaking: It’s boring. We’re halfway through the movie before anything remotely interesting happens. The setup of “ostracized archaeologist strikes out on his own to Prove He’s Right” takes FORTY-FIVE MINUTES. There’s not even significant character development to occupy us during this time because there’s only like six people in the entire movie, and all of them fit into standard character tropes. Sigurd is the widower obsessed with Viking runes, his children are typically resentful of his divided attentions, his boss is a Standard Boss Jerk. The wilderness guide character was a straight Quint rip-off, so much so that for a moment I thought this would be “Norwegian Jaws.” Unfortunately, it has more in common with Anaconda and Lake Placid.
I won’t ever hold a movie’s budget against it, but there are plenty of cheap camera tricks to make up for a lack of monster. We barely see the beast that nominally terrorizes Sigurd and his family, but just because you can’t show us anything, doesn’t mean you can’t still do stuff to make its presence feel threatening. Twice this movie uses a wide shot of water splashing to invoke fear. The second instance of splashing actually occurs from a cutaway of an underwater shot. Instead of sticking with the monster surging and giving us some water-churning attack footage, the scene cuts to a long-distance water splash. Just terrible decision making.
That’s where the family-friendly impact can be felt. Any chance Ragnarok had at being truly scary is undermined by an unwillingness to show real violence or gore. The final confrontation between Sigurd and the monster is actually a moment of parental bonding. There’s no fight or struggle to the death, there’s just two parents, communing, one of whom happens to be a MYTHICAL SEA BEAST. It’s completely ridiculous and a total fuck you to the audience that stuck out that snooze-fest build up. Jesus families, can’t we at least have horror movies without catering to your demands? We’ve already ceded holidays, superhero movies and chain restaurants. What more do you want?