The Horror Honeys: In a Deathmocracy, you Vote or Die...

In a Deathmocracy, you Vote or Die...

A Sci-Fi Honey Review by Katie

Circle (2015)

Imagine waking up and finding yourself trapped in a room with 49 strangers – a scenario that by itself might cause you to wonder if you’re stuck in a nightmare. If you move, if you try to explore the room around you, or if you touch another person, a warning sound alerts you to impending danger. The stakes are higher than you could ever imagine, however; it turns out this scenario may be some kind of psychological game being perpetrated on the human race at the malevolent hands of an unseen extraterrestrial force. With all the action confined to a single space for the film’s 87-minute runtime, writer/directors Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione are tasked with the tremendous responsibility of keeping an audience engaged primarily through dialogue alone. The resulting film, aptly titled Circle, is a flawed but altogether fascinating look at human nature through the lens of an otherworldly event. For fifty strangers, how they communicate themselves to one another could mean the difference between life and death – and holds up a mirror to our own prejudices and predilections as viewers. 

Get cozy in the setting of an isolated and darkened room, because that’s where you’ll be spending all of your time when you sit down with Circle. Waking up from a blackout, the above-mentioned group of fifty seemingly random people recall being snatched from a Los Angeles highway during a traffic jam before finding themselves staring blankly at one another in a concentric circle. It isn’t long before they realize they’re confined not only to the room itself but to the very spots they’re standing on, unable to move freely or to touch one another. The few who attempt these maneuvers early on are met with sudden deaths by electric shock, their bodies being dragged away with no explanation. The fifty soon discover that they have the power to decide, through popular vote, who should be next in line to face execution – and that decision must be made at the sound of a chime, every two minutes, until (presumably) one individual is left standing. It’s like being voted off the island on Survivor; but instead of getting kicked off a TV show, you’re zapped by a violent bolt of death-inducing lightning.

The tribe has spoken.
So how do they go about deciding who is next in line to die, you ask? Once the rules of the ‘game’ are determined, Circle really hits its stride in exploring this question. The fifty characters who make up the demographics of the circle are comprised of nearly every walk of life: young, old; black, white; gay, straight; wealthy, poor; and so on. One character proposes that they kill off the oldest people first, as they would be the next to die anyway in the real world; yet another character quizzes everyone on their professions to see what their contributions to society might be. There are those who seem like the natural choice to be spared – a doctor, a pregnant woman, a child – and those who seem at the outset to be more ‘expendable’ – an alleged criminal, a handicapped man, a cancer patient. Characters routinely make their decisions based on their judgments of another’s outward appearance or any minor admission they make about their real lives, revealing the bias of themselves as individuals as well as the collective mindset of the whole group. Without really knowing who everyone is voting for until they’re struck down where they stand, the film keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering who will be next – and what a character might say or do in those two crucial minutes to either save their lives or send themselves to an untimely demise.

“That guy should die because… well, he has a douchey haircut.”
Nitpickers in the audience will want certain loopholes of the game explained for them, and Hann and Miscione take great care from a writing standpoint to address every possible technicality. What if everyone abstains from voting? What if there’s a tie? These notions are tested out and explored by different characters, as would be the case if the nitpicky viewer was one of the fifty participants in the room. Where the film is arguably lacking is when it tries to over-explain why they’re there and what the result of the game is – questions that are ultimately less intriguing than the social experiment of how they determine who has the right to live and die. The filmmakers acknowledged that the inspiration for Circle was 12 Angry Men, a 1957 film starring Henry Fonda that takes place in a single afternoon as a jury deliberates the fate of a man on trial for murder. In that film as well as Circle, the crux of the action lies in the persuasive weight of an argument, calling attention to unfair prejudices, and even lying to protect your status in the room. It’s less compelling why they’re there than how they’re going to talk their way out of the situation they find themselves in.

Ok, who volunteers to go next?
With a concept like this, it would be easy to just populate the circle with nothing but broad stereotypes and caricatures, and at first it seems like that’s all they’re going to be; indeed, some of the petty and hateful things certain characters express echo a lot of the ignorant comments you can read daily on social media. As Circle progresses, however, those remarks turn into engaging debates, and the film lands on an unexpected finale for the people (or persons) who are left standing. It may be a small movie, but it says a whole hell of a lot about who we are and why we feel the way we do about the humans coexisting on the planet with us. Imagine being confronted by all of your various biases in the course of one day, in a single room, and having to make some difficult sacrificial decisions in order to save your own life. Would you be able to survive the Circle?

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four alien murder circles out of five

Circle is available via Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, & Google Play

Would you survive the Circle?
Tell Katie why on Twitter: @moonrisesister