It could be assumed that experimental movies use their unique subject matter to try and elevate the exploration of human nature or the intensity of narrative, but usually these films tend to rely heavily on their strange gimmick and forget about narrative or character depth altogether. Sadly the American psychological thriller Circle falls into this category of over indulgent narrative experimentation that might sound good on paper but was poorly executed.

The film takes place entirely in one room, where 50 strangers standing in a circle find themselves forced to choose a sacrifice every two minutes. Each person, through an anonymous voting method, gets to decide who becomes zapped by a black orb in the middle of the room. What seems like an interesting premise delving into the idea of how life is valued quickly degrades into about 80 minutes of enraged shouting 20 minutes of forced dialogue and zero character development.

The film doesn’t allow the audience to grow any sort of attachment or empathy for any of the characters, and where the goal of a film like this is to make us look past the everyday biases that we usually judge people on, the infuriatingly short time limit makes that impossible. It’s a shame because had they made a few changes this could’ve been a much more powerful film, but, unfortunately, it is simply an unsatisfying mess.

Pacing: 7 out of 10

The film has no discernible sense of escalation. Pacing is practically irrelevant since we’re always just left waiting for the next two minutes and the next person to be voted off. Some votes do have more of a sense of jeopardy, but ultimately it never seems too important who gets voted off. One positive is that the film never drags the pacing too long and by its nature it never feels slow.

Acting: 1 out of 10

Not one performance is worth mentioning. Every single character in this film acts out the tropes of their stereotypes whether it’s the young angry black kid playing the victim, the selfish Wall Street investor, the arrogant untrustworthy police officer, the violent tattoo riddled criminal, the moral ethics lawyer who quickly becomes nothing more than just “the lesbian” after it’s revealed she has a wife, the US marine who had to defend his right to live by mentioning his service in Afghanistan, the Christian minister trying to lighten the groups grim reality with faith, and the cynical atheist constantly angered by everyone. Not one character in this film possessed even an ounce of nuance.

Content: 5 out of 10

As mentioned before, Circle does possess an interesting concept. Unfortunately, it played out less like a movie with important consequences and instead seemed more like an acted out thought experiment. It seemed so devoid of narrative importance as the dialogue felt more like a statistics analysis.

Overall: 4 out of 10

Circle had a lot of wasted potential. Had they increased the time limit to 15 minutes per sacrifice and only 7 people it could’ve given audiences more time to grow attached to the characters for more than just their race or base ideology. As it is it’s impossible to relate to anyone for any real significant reason. Experimental movies create an environment where they could explore human nature in ways conventional films couldn’t, but more often than not these films get caught up in their gimmicks and seemingly forget that they’re supposed to be movies first.

– Zaid Al-Kazemi

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