Horror films with subjects being forced to play a game in order to survive is nothing new. Saw brought this theme into mainstream horror in 2004, and ended up spawning six sequels showing off Jigsaw’s gruesome traps. More recently, Rob Zombie tried his hand at this horror theme with 31 where five hostages had to survive 12 hours against a group of sadistic clowns. However, Circle, an overlooked gem from 2015, takes a unique approach to this theme by focusing on social prejudices rather than on gorified bloodshed.
Waking up in a room together with amnesia, 50 strangers must bide their time while searching for the reason behind their abduction. However, time is not on their side. Placed in a circular formation around an advanced technological device, the individuals are kept from leaving their assigned spot by an unseen force. Every two minutes, a lightening bolt emitted from the device in the center of the room strikes someone dead. It isn’t long before the unwilling contestants realize that they are voting for the next to die with small movements of their hands. In hopes of finding a way out of their situation, the large group agrees to first vote for the elderly. This does not last long, forcing the group to try alternative approaches.
Driven by mystery, the plot of Circle intensifies by exploring human nature through this deadly social experiment. Holding the ability to determine who lives and dies, the group begins to turn against one another as fear rips them apart. With death close at hand, the group begins to use social prejudices to determine who is worth surviving. Everything that sets human beings apart plays a role including age, social class, immigration, sexual orientation, language, religion, occupation and race.
Though the majority of the film is captivating for anyone interested in social criticism with a horror theme, the conclusion was a letdown. With enough suspense and questions building up throughout a story, one expects an elaborate plot twist revealing some sort of massive conspiracy. Though it makes sense, the disappointing conclusion was anticlimactic, losing some of the substance interwoven throughout the story.
Despite the disappointing ending, Circle is a well-crafted debut from filmmakers Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione. Earning a nomination for the New American Cinema Award at the Seattle International Film Festival and a 6.1 out of 10 on IMDb.com, this is worth checking out. This gem can currently be found streaming on Netflix.