Directed by Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione
Yep, the horror/ thriller/ sci-fi sections on Netflix are a load of tosh. Sure they’re better than Prime. But they rarely get updated, have fragments of franchises without the originals and mostly consist of stuff it reckons you’d give one star. Yet sometimes you stumble across a diamond in the rough that justifies the seven pounds a month your partner’s sister spends on it.
This is what happened to me, one stormy night, when I came across directorial team Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione’s debut feature film. Set-ups don’t come much more modest: 50 people of mixed sex, age and ethnic origin find themselves in a mysterious, inward facing, circle somewhere dark. Every two minutes one of them dies, killed off by an electric pulse from an unseen alien force, and it’s up to the others to vote who goes next. An odd extra-terrestrial experiment? Thankfully the film doesn’t dwell too long on the purpose, and instead we get a fast-paced suspense movie where 49 soon becomes one.
Never leaving the single location, nor making big jumps in time, the barebones result is something that could lend itself to stage as well as your small screen. What that makes the elimination game especially enjoyable is the ensemble cast are just that: an ensemble. There’s no obvious protagonist, and many of those that step forward as a would-be heroes or villains are quickly taken care of. As such it really leaves you with the impression anyone can win or lose, and something that at first feels better suited to a half hour Twilight Zone works across 90 minutes.
The players are a varied bunch too – among others we have a war hero, a pregnant woman, a cancer survivor, a child and a Wall Street wolf. The mostly unknown cast also do a commendable job, even though many of them only have a handful of lines to do it with. There are also strong twists scattered throughout and, without a flashback formula to tell us, it’s good that we’re left to decide who can and cannot be trusted. Furthermore, many of their debates about who ought to go next, and what makes an important life, present genuinely fascinating dilemmas – especially towards the final few. I don’t doubt viewers watching in a group will have much to talk about after.
If there’s a problem with Circle it’s that the minimalist setting and action quotient demands a script that delivers both an intriguing situation and engaging characters. Sadly the movie skimps a little on the latter, with most of the tension coming from the premise itself rather than any particular concerns about who will be the last person standing. The motley crew are mostly defined in broad strokes, and occasionally their philosophising about human nature sounds like a nine o’clock undergrad seminar the morning after a piss-up. Consequently I doubt many watching will whoop or holler when the victor is revealed. This is a shame, as the ending’s fairly clever and the silent coda manages to say more poignant things about humanity than the often heavy handed dialogue to come before. Still, I don’t doubt the bulk of viewers will make it far enough to see what I mean: even if its characters aren’t always thrilling, the plot is.
Circle is available via on demand services and Netflix