Director: Aaron Hann, Mario Miscone
Cast: Julie Benz, Mercy Malick, Carter Jenkins
Synopsis: Held captive and faced with their imminent executions, fifty strangers are forced to choose the one person among them who deserves to live.
Circle begins with a group of 50 strangers awakening in a darkened chamber to find themselves positioned around a machine which issues a deadly lightning bolt every two minutes. If they step off the red circle on which they stand, or try to touch another person, they’re instantly fried by the machine. It doesn’t take long for them to realise that they are able to control who the bolt hits by clenching a fist when the red arrow pointing to the person’s circle turns white – but no person sees what another sees, which means that they are able to select their victim with complete anonymity.
It’s an intriguing idea which grows increasingly fascinating as an intense bout of argument and counter-argument over what is the fairest criteria for deciding the order in which victims are selected ensues. The fact that the group has only two minutes between deaths to make their arguments adds a level of tension that can only grow stronger as their numbers dwindle. The opening gambit is to select the oldest first, but the seniors are quick to point out that they have as much right to life as those younger than them, and the originator of the idea soon finds it backfiring on him when everyone over 35 selects him to receive a bolt from the machine after no more than two or three old people have died.
For the most part, the sequence and manner in which the group’s thought processes operate are entirely logical (if one can accept that ordinary people trapped in such a terrifying situation would be capable of rational thought). And naturally, in such a tense and stressful atmosphere, it doesn’t take long for hidden prejudices to be exposed. Criminals, lesbians, adulterers, disabled, good people and bad – the circle serves as a microcosm of society, and it’s a telling indication of the opinion of writing and directing duo Aaron Hann’s and Mario Miscione that the selfless few who think for themselves are outnumbered by those who desire to live at all costs and the weaker characters who are so easily swayed by those with an agenda. As the numbers begin to thin, arguments descend to the level of tribalism betwen those who feel a pregnant woman and a young child should be the last two remaining, and those who argue that by letting these two live they effectively condemn themselves to death.
Circle is a small movie with a big idea, and an absolute certainty about how to transfer it to the screen. The set-up dictates the pace, which, although relentless, never grows exhausting, and also provides the arena for a fascinating exploration of human prejudices, bigotry, racism and pre-judgment, while arguing that the casual biases that some would argue are harmless can prove deadly in extreme situations. Although Hann and Miscione are smart enough to wrong-foot the audience (and ramp up the tension) by occasionally selecting an unexpected victim without stepping beyond the confines of believability, there’s also a consistency to the order that is impressive. And while some might find the ending depressing, there are few who can’t at least acknowledge that the realities of the world in which we live suggest that the movie gets it right.
(Reviewed 17th October 2015)