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Henry Lloyd-Hughes in Ragdoll.
Henry Lloyd-Hughes in Ragdoll.
Photo: Showmax






2/5 Stars


Detectives attempt to solve the murders of six people, whose bodies have been dismembered and sewn into the shape of one grotesque body - nicknamed the Ragdoll.


Based on the first book of the same name in a popular trilogy of novels by crime writer Daniel Cole, Ragdoll has proven to be one of the exponentially increasing number of films and TV series that has garnered wildly opposing reactions from critics and audiences. While this UK-US co-production has received nearly universal acclaim from critics with a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (RT), its response by general audiences has been rather less than enthusiastic, with a 5.7 audience rating on IMDb and a 67% audience score on RT.

Now, obviously, aggregation scores like these are nearly meaningless as RT has been criticised for its tendency to oversimplify the opinions of professional reviewers into "rotten" and "fresh" ratings (a film that garners a tepid but fresh rating – your average 3-star movie – can receive the same RT rating as one that absolutely loved and hated in equal measure) and to allow its audience score to be review bombed by noxious fanbases. Still, a quick look at a sampling of both the professional reviews and the more cogent, reliable audience reviews (as in, ones that say more than "this show sucks" or just because it happens to feature a lesbian and a black woman, "go woke go broke") is revealing.

I hate to say it, but I'm kind of with the "plebs" on this one.

I certainly like and respect things like Se7en and Silence of the Lambs – how could I not? - but the serial killer genre has never really been a favourite of mine, so when I heard that Ragdoll was produced by the creators of Killing Eve and was supposed to be more of a pitch-black dark comedy than a traditional crime procedural, I had my hopes raised considerably. Unfortunately, while there is clearly some considerable talent involved here, and though the series picks up considerably in its increasingly silly second half, I found the series to be both a confused and confusing mess. And, crucially, for a comedy, even a tar-black one, hopelessly unfunny.

To start off, I found the first couple of episodes to be damn near impossible to follow. The plot is incredibly convoluted with tons of plot details dropped almost off-handedly in a never-ending parade of hard-boiled, theoretically witty dialogue that I found fell almost entirely flat both in terms of its humour and crime-noir rhythm. Worst of all, the actors may put in good performances, but they constantly deliver the dialogue in a mumbled whisper. By far, the most egregious example of this is Thalissa Teixeira, who manages to put in both the best and the most mumble-whispery performance of the entire cast. The ultimate result is a show built around dialogue that is crucial for understanding what is going on, but with dialogue that is far too uninteresting to hold your attention. As combinations go, that's not the best.

To add to this, it also has a very loud and very intrusive score that is, admittedly, interestingly off-kilter, but whoever's responsible for the sound mix is clearly way too big a Christopher Nolan fan. There are far too many scenes with actors mumbling to one another while this psych-jazz score drowns them out even further. I watched this with nice, open-back headphones on – I can only imagine what watching this through the factory speakers on an average low or mid-budget TV must sound like.

I was so befuddled at what it was about and why it received such a warm critical reception that I did something I seldom do: I read a detailed synopsis of the first episode and watched it again. And indeed, it was better the second time around, and it helped the rest of the series make a lot more sense. Now, this might be because the show is really very clever and involved and I wasn't living up to it – plus, let's be honest, it's much easier to be distracted watching TV at home than watching a film in a cinema. Or maybe, just maybe, it's simply not a very good piece of storytelling.

Basic comprehension aside, it's also presumably not good storytelling to turn our detective-heroes into idiots who play into the serial killer's traps with astonishing consistency or when the revelation of the killer evokes no greater reaction than a shrug of the soldiers and a muted "him?" It's not a whodunit, so there's perhaps no reason for it to draw too much attention to that particular revelation, but its failure to raise even the slightest interest is rather less forgivable.

Very simply, as far as bloodthirsty villains go, the Ragdoll is a total dud. Commanding little in the way of screen presence, having little in the way of a compelling motive for why he does what he does, and severely lacking in the sort of personality to put him in the same class as a Wild Bill, a Ghost Face or even a Jigsaw, the Ragdoll is just... bleh. And yes, Saw is certainly one of the show's many influences, not least in the admittedly admirably gruesome death scenes and tricky, convoluted traps, but let's not overlook Scream, which may be a slasher in terms of genre but is, when you get right down to it, a film about a serial killer that actually provides both real thrills and laughs.

With the revelation of the identity of the Ragdoll, however, in the third or fourth episode, the show takes a strange turn for the... overblown. Not entirely in a bad way, but not in a good way either. The personal drama gets more melodramatic and more heated but also more repetitive. The contrivances get even bigger and sillier. The cops become even more useless. The twists even more laughable. It does, however, finally start to become a lot more fun and the overwrought dialogue finally starts to click, at least somewhat. And the pace, which had until then managed to be both relatively breakneck and also deadly boring, finally caught up with the action. The actors, who are all otherwise perfectly solid throughout, also get more to do than quip at each other and wander around aimlessly.

It's not quite a guilty pleasure by the end because I don't really believe in such things, but it is something that gave me the most pleasure when it was technically at its worst. Which is fine as these things go, but it takes too long to reach that point, and worst of all, there are enough interesting character beats, inventive killings, and an intriguing moral ambiguity baked into it that "so bad it's good" is really, really not good enough.    


Ragdoll is now streaming on Showmax.

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