I sat down for Circle, not really knowing what to expect. Based on the poster and a quick glance at the plot summary I hoped for a solid genre flick, but that's not exactly what I got. Circle is much more than a bag of slickly executed clichés, instead it sets out to turn things upside down, packing a few welcome surprises along the way.
You have to give the film a little time though, because the beginning makes it look like the umpteenth copy of Saw. A group of people waking up in a room, not knowing where they are or how they got there isn't exactly a novel concept, unless you've been ignoring horror cinema for the past 10 years. But that's where the comparison ends, Hann and Miscione have other things in store for Circle and once the initial setup is explained they quickly begin to shift their perspective.
Films like Saw have always been about overcoming oneself in order to survive. About solving puzzles and escaping perilous situations by crossing personal boundaries. Even though at first Circle seems to be going in that same direction, the captives quickly discover a more dire fate awaits them. 50 of them are lined up in a circle. Every two minutes someone dies and the next victim is always decided by vote. The interesting part is that there's no way to cheat the system, so rather than trying to beat the game, people are clinging on to an irrational hope that surviving the next two minutes might lead to some kind of solution.
Circle is equal parts mystery and thriller with a small slice of horror thrown in for good measure, but don't let that fool you. It's a very talkative film, shot in a single location and focusing on the group dynamic rather than introducing action elements. The key to the game is surviving in a group of 50 strangers, knowing every two minutes at least one person has to die. Hann and Miscione use this setup to explore how people make choices when they have little to no factual information to rely on, resulting in a film that shows more interest in the psychological aspect of the concept, rather than trying to arouse shock and tension through the killings.
Even though Circle is shot in a single location, the presentation is interesting enough (a bit Cube-like). Acting is decent and there are enough interesting angles to keep it engaging. Circle is really a perfect genre/author mash-up, save for that final minute. And it's not even the build-up that ruins it. Up until the last minute Hann and Miscione do everything perfect. The not-so final ending was absolute perfection too, but then they decided to stick on another minute that felt completely obsolete. It offers an explanation I could do very well without and it backtracks on the implied ending just seconds earlier. It's a shame they didn't just cut it off, but since it's there it's impossible to ignore. Not that it ruined the film for me, everything else is still very cool, but it's definitely a missed opportunity.
If you're looking for something a little different than Circle is a great little psychological thriller. It really messes with your expectations and serves you an impossible riddle with no solution. At least, if you're the type of film fan that doesn't freak out when the ending is more than a little disappointing. Here's to hoping Hann and Miscione get another chance to prove their worth.