Wednesday 21 October 2015

CIRCLE review

Fifty strangers wake in a circular room to find that they are pawns on a sundial shaped game board. Every couple of minutes one of them is killed by the eye in the middle, making it a race against time to try to work out the system, along the way revealing the social, racial and class prejudices each individual harbours. If you move from your spot you die. If you don't vote tactically, you die. If you reveal too much about yourself that the others don't like, you die.

At a time when audiences are lamenting that there are no new film ideas, Circle is proof that there are still interesting stories to be told and unique ways to tell them. Best described as Cube crossed with The Weakest Link, Circle can be seen as a damning indictment of society's hidden prejudices and the amount to which people value their own worth over other people. As an audience member too, it's hard not to pick your favourites and develop strong opinions as to who should go next. It's a complete Nietzschean nightmare.

Although it bears some surface similarities to the Cube series (strangers thrown into an unfamiliar and oddly constructed room), it would be unfair to the makers of Circle to not commend them on creating such an intricately crafted and well plotted film. At 86 minutes long it never allows the tension to let up, even as the herd starts to thin. Major character's receive their fate and are taken out of frame to be instantly forgotten about. There's no time to mourn before the ominous klaxon starts to sound again and votes must be cast.

One of the film's major strengths is the relative anonimity of the cast. Barring one cast member who will stick out to fans of Buffy and Dexter like a sore thumb (not that that guarantees her survival. Or does it?), this is a cast of unknowns, or perhaps more fittingly, a level playing field. Major players die and others move into play; others say their piece and then choose to hide in plain sight. Obnoxious banker type. Pregnant woman. Little girl. Her grandad. A married couple. A marine. It's a rogues gallery that is completely unpredictable as to who will be voted off next.

The internal logic of the game and the method of voting via a discreet hand gesture is explained well and quickly, choosing to stay clear of technobabble in favour of focussing on the many motivations that inform the group's votes. We don't know who is controlling this machine nor does it matter, as it's the snap judgements of the group that drives this story. Circle's strength lies in its ability to throw us in right at the deep end and never letting up. Intricately plotted with revelations and new ideas raised at just the right moment; this is gripping, intelligent sci-fi.


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