'Circle': Film Review

Courtesy of SIFF
'Twilight Zone'-y drama works better than expected.

Fifty strangers wake up in a dark room, where they immediately learn that unseen forces will vaporize them if they move.

Alien abduction meets game-of-death strategizing in Circle, a bare-bones drama featuring a single location and dozens of very anxious actors. Making their feature debut, writers-directors Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione keep their ambitions in check, taking what easily could be a no-budget stage production and bringing just enough visual appeal to justify the cinematic treatment. It will be appreciated on the fest circuit, especially at genre-specific events, and may well introduce the duo to financiers for bigger outings in the future.

Fifty strangers wake up in a dark room, where they are standing in two concentric circles and have little memory of how they got there. They immediately learn that unseen forces will vaporize them if they move and that even keeping still is no guarantee of safety; before long, they realize that the group itself is somehow collectively deciding who lives and who dies.

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Clearly, they're the unwilling subjects of extraterrestrial experimenters. But what's the point of the experiment? Is there any way out? Should they try to cooperate or compete with the men and women around them?

Heated dialogue spells out a hive-mind debate that establishes some (questionable) ground rules and then proceeds to argue over strategy. Things get personal quickly, as they tend to when you realize you have only 60 seconds to decide which of the people you're looking at will die. Shall we let race and class prejudice guide us or vent our frustrations on authority figures? Is self-sacrifice noble or stupid?

Some long stretches of bullying and philosophizing occasionally test our patience, and it's hard to believe that characters who perpetuate them aren't zapped immediately by their peers. A little black humor would have gone a long way here, but the filmmakers and cast play it very straight. Still, the movie keeps suspense alive, as we try to guess how this all will play out — building to a final tableau that, silently, says nearly as much about human nature as does all the talk leading up to it.

Production companies: Taggart Productions, Votiv Films

Cast: Julie Benz, Mercy Malick, Carter Jenkins, Lisa Pelikan, Cesar Garcia

Directors-screenwriters: Aaron Hann, Mario Miscione

Producers: Justin Bursch, Scott Einbinder, Michael Nardelli, Tim Nardelli, Brent Stiefel

Executive producers: Mike Callaghan, Autumn Federici, Mick Partridge, Brad Reinke

Director of photography: Zoran Popovic

Production designer: Tom Lisowski

Costume designer: Carrie Grace

Editor: Tom Campbell

Music: Justin Marshall Elias

Casting director: Lindsay Chag

No rating, 87 minutes

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