Directed By Michael W. Watkins
2010 – 88 Minutes/Widescreen
DVD Provided by Indican Pictures
Article written by Craig Hamann

Michael W. Watkins’ film starts out interesting. A group of patients sit dead on chairs inside a room at a maximum security mental hospital. They’ve been slaughtered by James Bennett, a nut-job who was confined to the asylum after being arrested for several gruesome murders on the outside. Bennett kills ritualistically, thinking that somehow each life he takes is connected with Greek mythology and numerological equations. He escapes the hospital and travels to his childhood home, which unbeknownst to him is presently occupied by a half dozen grad students that are studying Bennett’s background for their thesis project. On top of that, hot on Bennett’s trail is the same U.S. Marshall that caught him the first time around, only now he’s aided by a FBI profiler as well. It all sounds good so far, right?

I wish I could say the movie continues down that path. But unfortunately, Watkins’ CIRCLE ends up being a big disappointment. After a great beginning, the film suddenly takes a misguided turn into assembly line slasher territory and it never finds its way back out. Despite having what seems to most, but not all, of the right materials to be a cool thriller, things get bland and predictable about halfway through the second act and finish with an unsatisfying ending. This brings us to the main problem with the storyline. Who was it written for? Genre fans? Maybe, but anyone who has seen their share of slasher flicks can basically predict the beats and actions in this movie. Yes, there are a few twists and turns here and there, including a decent one in the third act, but a genre audience will see most of them coming from a mile away. What’s weird is that our U.S. Marshall and his team, plus the FBI profiler, do not see them. They’re actually confused most of the time. Adding to the humdrum effect is that nearly all of the so-called surprise clues and twists are revealed through expository dialogue that tells us one thing while the visuals reveal something different. Take the character of James Bennett, for example. We’re told repeatedly how intelligent he is and how intricate his ritualistic methods are, yet the most actor Sila Weir Mitchell offers in the villain role is scene after scene of bug-eyed stares before, during, and after each killing.

Mitchell’s killer isn’t the only let down. None of the characters go beyond the expected. In some ways Peter Onorati seems just right as the U.S. Marshall. He certainly is intense enough and he takes the role seriously. But it’s a cardboard cutout role that doesn’t challenge the viewer for a second. The revealing of his past history is okay but never really fleshed out, and his tough guy “let’s just get out there and kick ass” banter with the more scientifically minded FBI profiler (played by Kinsey Packard) has been done, sometimes much better, numerous times in past serial killer projects. Basically, the scenes between Onorati and Packard only serve as filler moments, providing some content through tired and worn dialogue between each killing of a grad student. Speaking of the grad students, none of them are the least bit original. Most annoying has to be the Tristan character, a typical narcissistic a-hole who womanizes and dopes his way through life. While that in itself may not sound bad to some, when it’s presented with the same mediocrity level that we’ve seen a million times before in other slasher movies, it starts to grate on the viewer’s nerves.

Indican Pictures releases this DVD with decent enough picture and sound quality. I wouldn’t say there is anything great here, but I can’t complain about a lack of clarity or any other tech problems. As for extras, there aren’t any, aside from a behind-the-scenes featurette that provides little information or insight on the inner workings of the production. Also on hand are sneak previews of other Indican titles.
The artwork on the DVD box is misleading. It appears as if this is a more demented film, maybe along the lines of SAW or even HOSTEL. As mentioned before, the beginning of the movie takes the audience in that morbid direction. But things go awry quickly and CIRCLE becomes just one of many entries in a glut of middle-of-the-road slasher films. Not everything is bad. The music score actually works in many cases. There is some nice art direction and production design, and the cinematography is decent as well. Watkins’ direction jumps around from being assertive in one scene to plain passive the next scene. It’s a shame that the killings aren’t all that original or deviously executed, which makes them seem not particularly inspired.

This is a production that underachieved because its story needed to be stronger. The original idea behind the project is fine, but the application of the storyline idea and the forming of the characters simply isn’t all that interesting. The end result? We’re watching the film to be entertained, but instead we end up being irritated and bored. That’s a formula set for self-destruct mode every time.