Circle

Note: this review is for Circle (2015), not to be confused with The Circle (2015), or numerous other films of the same name.

Fifty people find themselves trapped together in a mysterious circular arena. Unable to move from their assigned spots, the soon discover they are participants in a deadly game – every two minutes, they must collectively vote on which of them dies. Only one person can survive, but who should it be?

While browsing for a mutually agreeable film on Netflix, my viewing companion and I stumbled on Circle, a movie which seemed exactly right for my “awful sci-fi thrillers” blog reviews. In fact, even with our expectations set appropriately low, this film was worse than expected.

From the Netflix description, you’d be forgiven for thinking Circle was going to be an exercise in creatively bloody killings, something akin to Cube or Saw. In fact, this is a much lower budget affair. The entire film takes place in a single room, with actors you’ve never heard of standing up, reciting their dialogue, and then sequentially getting killed. Even the deaths are pretty simple, consisting of nothing more than a cheap lightning bolt effect as the character in question falls to the floor. Many of the deaths don’t even occur onscreen, so all you get is the thud of another body dropping to the ground.

As the people trapped in this predicament start to figure out what’s going on, they naturally begin to discuss and debate their situation. Is there a way out of this, and for how many people? In the meantime, who should die first to give the rest a bit more time?

What the film is clearly aiming for here is a deep discussion of morality, the value of life, and human behaviour when under extreme stress. Unfortunately, the dialogue is so heavy-handed and simplistic that it’s impossible to take seriously. It reads more like something you’d expect from a high school student play than a film written by and released for adults – and even that feels a bit dismissive of the writing and acting ability of those hypothetical high school students.

That being said, there are a handful of satisfying moments in the film. Early on, one young man manages to convince the group that they should kill off all old people first – after all, they’ve already lived their lives. Everyone goes along with this, at least until the definition of “old people” suddenly drops by twenty years. Unsurprisingly, the more mature members of the group turn on this young man, and vote for him to be killed next instead – culminating with one old lady voting for him with a triumphant “fuck you”. Later on, a homophobic bigot tries to turn the group against a lesbian, only for them to kill him instead. The final votes also make for a pretty good twist, but I won’t spoil the specifics here.

A number of other reviews have praised Circle for having a more definitive ending than similar films such as Cube, but don’t let that fool you into expecting something that explains everything. We get to see some indication as to who or what was responsible for putting those fifty people into the circle, but we’re left with no idea as to why they did it, or what happens next.

Final Thoughts

A budget sci-fi “thriller” that fails to live up to its lofty ambitions, Circle is too mediocre to even qualify for “so bad it’s good” status. Watch it if you must, but don’t expect to derive vast quantities of entertainment from it.

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