Low budget thriller Circle is admirably ambitious if not hugely successful
Fifty people wake up in a chamber. Nobody knows why or how they got there; all they know is that every 2 minutes, they have to choose a new person to receive a fatal electric shock. Who gets to live and who has to die? That’s the question posed by Circle, Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione’s ultra-low budget psychological thriller. Set entirely in one room with a huge ensemble cast, Circle attempts to mix a huge melting pot of diverse characters with unpredictable, tension-building deaths and a genuine moral dilemma, with mildly successful results.
Inspired by 12 Angry Men, Circle is impressive in just how restrained it is (presumably by necessity rather than choice). The fifty strangers chosen to play the vicious game are rooted to the spot and we never see their surroundings, other than a glowing red circle before them. With such tiny production values, Circle needs a great script and memorable characters to sustain the length of its 80 minute runtime; unfortunately, neither elements are particularly outstanding.
At least half the ensemble cast are nameless cannon fodder, given a brief backstory before quickly dying. Of the more fleshed out characters, most are fairly solid amateurish actors who aren’t going to win awards any time soon, but a few stand out; Adam Levine look-a-like Jordi Vilasuso as the compassionate Soldier, Allegra Masters as the distressed Pregnant Woman, and Michael McLafferty as the douchebag Lawyer. The screenplay, meanwhile, is pretty stupid, with the characters quickly grasping the impossible rules of the game with little effort. However, having an unpredictable death every few minutes is a genius plot device that keeps generating excitement consistently nearly all the way through the film, keeping even the dullest stretches of the film watchable.
If Circle were a bigger budget Hollywood film, I’d probably be giving it a much harsher review. The plot turns can be quite dumb, the acting is mostly mediocre, and it all adds up to an anti-climax of a confusing ending. However, I mostly came away impressed by Hann and Miscione’s economical filmmaking and genuinely tense plot device. Fifty people in a room dying at random intervals sounds like it would barely sustain a Twilight Zone episode, but the two directors keep it brisk and entertaining enough that it’s hard not to admire their ambition, even if Circle doesn’t quite come together as a whole.
By Harry J. Ford
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