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Written by Brad Tiemann and directed by Michael W. Watkins, Circle should have been a considerably more interesting film than it turns out to be. The film tells the story of a killer named James Bennett (Sila Weir Mitchell) who is arrested for a few grisly murders only to escape shortly thereafter from the hospital he was locked up in. A pair of cops, Richard and Kathy (Peter Onorati and Kinsey Packard), are sent out to bring him back in before he kills again, hoping to figure out if there's any sort of method to his madness at all. As they start putting together the pieces of the puzzle, they start to figure out that not only do Bennett's bizarre ritualistic murders have ties to ancient Greek mythology and complex mathematical formulas, but that there may be someone else involved in the killings too.
Meanwhile, a bunch of students studying the Bennett case decide to head to the house he called home during his killing spree to see what they can learn about him. Of course, Bennett comes home, in true Michael Meyers fashion, to finish up what he started before the cops caught him the first time.
If the storyline sounds a little familiar, that's probably because it is. The plot is actually pretty predictable, at least, if you've seen your fair share of slasher and serial killer films. This isn't a 'body count' picture in the way that classic eighties stalk and stab films tended to be, however, as Watkins does at least try to infuse something a bit different into his picture by blending his horror movie trappings with some more heady police procedural characteristics. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, though the biggest hurdle you're going to have to get over in order to swallow this one is how and why we're able to so easily figure out where things are going when those highly trained police specialists are not. It's asking a bit much in that regard, and this glaring issue does take away from the movie enough to hurt it, though not to completely ruin it.
That sizeable flaw covered, the film does have a few positives, most of which relate to the performances. Sila Weir Mitchell is just menacing enough in the role of the primary antagonist that we can absolutely accept that he just might be as insane and as dangerous as the movie would want us to. He's got a strong screen presence and a fairly piercing stare and while initially you might have trouble not associating him with his bumbling character from My Name Is Earl, once he gets moving with the character, he really makes it his own and proves he can do scary well. Kinsey Packard is also quite good in her role as the female Fed assigned to help out. She's got the right mix of calm and confusion going on that, if nothing else, her character is a fair bit more interesting than many of the female Fed's that have come in the not inconsiderable wake of Clarice Starling.
The movie's cover art would have you believe it's a picture in the vein of Hostel or maybe Saw, cashing in on the trend of graphic horror films that have hit box office gold over the last few years. There's a fair bit of violence here to be sure, some of it fairly sexualized at times, but you can't really call this a gore film. There's more intelligence here for it to fall so simply into that trap, and there are prolonged stretches where the procedural aspects of the storyline outshadow the horror movie elements. The film is shot with a fair bit of style, though the story does come before flashy visuals and hyperkinetic editing tricks, and the soundtrack is evocative and interesting in so much as it compliments that storyline and atmosphere well.
Had there been a bit more put into the story to differentiate this from what had come before, Circle probably would have ranked higher. That didn't happen, but the end result is still watchable enough that fans of both slasher pictures and thrillers ought to find enough that works hre to at least consider it worth a watch.The DVD:
Circle is presented in a pretty decent 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that features nice color reproduction and a fair bit of detail in the foreground and the background of the image at all times. Some mild compression artifacts are present in some of the darker sequences and there are scenes in which the colors have been tinkered with, presumably in an attempt to generate some atmosphere, but there isn't any print damage or heavy edge enhancement to complain about. Sharpness and contrast look good, and there aren't really any problems here at all.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track is of fairly decent quality. The levels are well balanced and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about. Dialogue comes through clearly at all times and the score and sound effects are mixed in with the appropriate amount of punch. Don't look for any subtitles, alternate language dubs or closed captioning options, however, as you'll be sorely disappointed.Extras:
The only substantial extra on this disc is Behind The Scenes Featurette that gives us a look at what went into the production as it was being shot. It's fairly brief and not particularly in-depth but it's there for those who want more. Aside from that, look for trailers for a few unrelated releases, menus and chapter selection.
Circle is decent enough as far as the performances and the production values are concerned, but it fails to maintain the tension it tries to create throughout the film and it winds up being pretty predictable. Indican's DVD looks and sounds just fine but is light on extras, which doesn't really wind up helping things much. You could certainly do worse as far as movie choices go, as the picture is entertaining if inconsistent, but it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to watch this one over and over again. A fine rental for the curious.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.