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(The 2015 Seattle International Film Festival started May 14 and ran all the way until June 7. HtN was on the scene and a festival wrap-up is coming later this week. In the meantime, check out this review of Circle, the latest from filmmakers Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione).

Circle is the most fun you can have watching a diverse group of strangers get systematically executed. Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione crafted a shrewd script for their Twilight Zone inspired morality tale about fifty people who are forced to stop being polite and start getting judgmental.

It begins with everyone returning to consciousness after a blackout, to discover that they are standing in a circle, facing each other, in a dark room. They soon learn that they cannot move too much or try to step off the red dots under their feet, lest a machine in the middle of the room electrocutes them. And that’s not even the bad news. Every two minutes, the machine also kills one person at random. They can’t stop the death, but they do have the power to choose the next victim by popular vote. There are other rules and nuances that they ascertain along the way, all of which play into their harrowing discussion about who should be the next to die and if “winning” this sadistic game is even an option.

The cast of Circle is as ensemble as it gets. Many characters have only a line or two. Others never speak a word. When you know that almost everyone in the room will be dead in approximately ninety minutes, that doesn’t leave much time for exposition or character development. Immediately, strong personalities emerge, attempting to organize the group and make cases for sacrificial order. The action unfolds, more or less, in real time and the camera never leaves the room, which heightens the intensity for the viewers.

When it becomes clear that there’s no way to stop what’s happening, they feel they must collectively elect the last person standing. They all agree that it’s basically a toss-up between a child and an unborn baby (the mother of whom gets a pass for being the incubator). Without the presence of these “innocents,” the group could have agreed to just let the machine decide their fates. Everyone has a reason for being expendable if you dig deep enough. Ultimately, death order doesn’t matter because all but one (at most) will walk away. Despite this inevitability, and agreeing upon who to spare, most of them succumb to the human instinct to hang on to life for as long as possible. So the bulk of dialog consists of ranking everyone’s worth. Being old, promiscuous, mean, boring, or unfaithful are all a more immediate death sentence. Bigots are targets in moments when the majority isn’t guilty of their own bigotry.

For once, the filmmakers are given a pass for not developing their characters. There’s simply no time. These people are forced to vote based on initial impressions and outward appearance. Not getting to know your characters also helps keep the story allegorical, which lessens the emotional blow of such senseless killing. It would be harder to enjoy the twists and turns of the plot if you genuinely felt for these people.

Casting also plays a part in preventing audience preconceptions. There are some familiar faces, but, for the most part, the actors are as much strangers to us as they are to each other. Lack of recognition helps place the viewer in the same headspace as the characters.

There are one or two missteps in the performances. But nearly everything about Circle is deliberate and dense. It’s not an easy feat to create such heady sci-fi on a shoestring budget. But Hann and Miscione, who previously helmed a similarly toned web series (The Vault), have shown tremendous skill in that arena. You can see some of the deaths coming, but there are also plenty of surprises. They keep you on your toes till the bitter end. I’d love to see what these guys could do with some money behind them.

– Jessica Baxter (@TehBaxter)


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Jessica Baxter is a visual media critic with a background in filmmaking (including the 2005 award winning horror comedy short film, Snow Day, Bloody Snow Day). She began writing on the internet circa 2006, and spent 10 years as the Seattle City Editor for Not For Tourists. She’s been a contributing writer for Film Threat, Hammer to Nail and Screenrant. She also produces and co-hosts the podcasts Paid in Puke (covering female-driven films) and Really Weird Stuff: A Twin Peaks Podcast. She lives in Seattle, WA with her spouse, kids, and too many pets. In addition to movies, she loves singing, cool clouds, and pie. Follow her on twitter (for now) @tehbaxter and on BlueSky @thebaxter.

  • Hi Jessica, thank you for at least a common sense review of this movie. I saw two other good reviews as well from critics, however the public ones obviously varied with one bad one two mediocre and one really good one. This film is technically a masterpiece for the reasons you have stated, especially with the low budget, and the time frame to build characters. With 50 in the cast its impossible, but in the time allotted they came pretty close to creating feelings for the key players in the end.
    Of course this is a lesson in modern society and how we process what’s around us (religion, race, gender preference, morality etc), it covered a banker, police man, soldier, child, moms/dads, but in the end, just like Walking Dead, humanity will destroy itself with only a few being capable of having guts to stand up for the good. The mind games of the supposed insane had a reality to them as well (like Thanos’ in Infinity War) a decision of rational no matter how far removed. The beginning is not flawed as one reviewer said, it has to come into light with unknowns. We need to give people credit after seeing the “Saw” movies that even morons would figure out a situation and then try to deal with it. This movie is riveting from the beginning to the end, and a watchable one set room. It is cruel in its simplicity and brings you to the point frequently stopping the movie to tell a friend “this is great!” I really enjoyed this for a change and want to see more from Hann and Miscone. If people can watch “Blood Simple” by the Cohen Brothers, then this is right up the alley for suspense and wonder of what’s next. By the way when people step off a circle unexpectedly to accept death for the rest, thats damn heroic.

    May 17, 2018
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