Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 27, 2020)
If you take a gander at the Blu-ray cover to the left, you might think “hey, that reminds me of the art for The Boy! I’ll bet Welcome to the Circle offers another horror movie about a creepy doll!”
That would be partially correct. While Circle indeed goes down the horror path, it involves no living dolls, as instead, it follows a more psychological bent than one might anticipate.
While Greg (Matthew MacCaull) and his daughter Samantha (Taylor Dianne Robinson) enjoy a camping trip, disaster strikes. A bear attacks them and leaves them wounded.
Some young women happen upon them and take father and daughter to shelter. While this sounds good on the surface, problems soon emerge.
It turns out Greg and Samantha end up “rescued” by members of “The Circle”, a cult. Greg needs to find a way out to save himself and his daughter.
That story doesn’t sound especially original, as the notion of evil cults appears in plenty of stories, some as recent as 2019’s Midsommar. However, Circle comes with a potentially intriguing narrative, one that could succeed in the right hands.
Writer/director David Fowler doesn’t possess those hands, unfortunately. If Fowler’s hands contain even the slightest hint of cinematic talent, you’ll find no evidence of that in this thoroughly awful movie.
Circle enjoys an abysmal 2.8 out of 10 rating from IMDB readers, and that might be a good 2 points too high for this mess. To call the movie “amateurish” would overstate the competence on display.
As noted, the film’s basic concept comes with potential, but not a single moment of Circle threatens to live up to those possibilities. Instead, we find a nearly incomprehensible mish-mash of clichés and stale filmmaking choices, all wrapped inside an incoherent narrative.
Virtually nothing about this disaster makes the slightest amount of sense, and Fowler’s choice to jack up the “tension” to 11 from Minute One doesn’t help. A good movie would introduce us to the Circle gradually and build the creepiness, but instead, Fowler makes the cult members seem… well culty right off the bat.
That crushes the evolution of the tale’s natural spookiness and makes the stabs at scares impotent. When a story pounds us with phony drama from the opening, it comes with nowhere to go, so it can’t escalate when it needs to do so.
Perhaps Fowler sensed the trap he’d laid for himself, as he turns Circle almost literally into a different movie about one-third of the way into the tale. Out of nowhere, we meet a trio of “cult-busters” who plan to enter the Circle and rescue a brainwashed woman.
To call this shift abrupt would be an understatement, and the film fails to integrate them well. We lose track of Greg and Samantha for a long period, and though the divergent threads eventually tie together, the movie can’t do so in natural manner.
Fowler’s dialogue does him no favors, as Circle comes with so many silly lines that I can’t help but wonder if Fowler really wants to parody the genre. We get groaners like
“this is some multi-dimensional kung fu we’re getting into here, boy!” and “if you’re restless, stick your thumb up your ass – it does wonders!”
Maybe Fowler does intend Circle to spoof the genre – can anyone actually write those lines with any level of seriousness? – but I can’t find anything else here to imply that the movie leans toward wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Indeed, Fowler appears to treat everything in a relentlessly serious manner that makes the film’s basic idiocy even more mind-numbing.
The actors do their best with this awful material, but none of them show nearly enough talent to sell the crummy lines. I’d like to pick out a good performance among the bunch, but all seem so amateurish that I can’t cite anyone who seems even mediocre, much less appealing.
Even at 92 minutes, Circle becomes a total endurance test, as the movie’s utter lack of redeeming qualities makes it a waste of time. Ridiculous, incoherent and basically incompetent, nothing about this film works.