The Cult Classic has long been a debated term in the realm of movies. They, by definition, almost always have limited appeal and tend to be lower-budget or indie films that manage to do one thing really well while falling short everywhere else. Some are cerebral like The Man from Earth. Others become a platform for future stardom like the surreal and thought-provoking (twisting?) Donnie Darko did for Jake Gyllenhaal. Circle, which was released late last year on Netflix, seems on track to join their ranks.
Not everyone gets Circle, not to be confused with The Circle or The Circle. Reviews on Amazon and IMDB have that rare parabolic shape that appear when some people are genuinely perplexed. No one thinks the movie is bad, but there is a segment that will never pick up on the nuances. Initially, the movie setting has a feel very similar to Cube. It takes place primarily in one room, and you can tell the special effects and set will age well with time. The movies only begin to diverge with the tenor of the plot. While Cube has discussions interspersed with jolts of vicious action, Circle has a more consistent balance of emotional terror and physical death that looms ever larger as the film marches to its conclusion.
Taking place in the immediate aftermath of an alien invasion, Circle pits 50 strangers in a room where they are the architects of their own demise. Forced (or perhaps not, with some interpretation) to vote who will die every two minutes, Circle plays out in real time. With at least one person perishing every 120 seconds, The Circle runs at a predictable 86 minutes. It has all the commentary and introspection one might expect with such a plot, and it pulls it off reasonably well, being more timely and relevant today than perhaps it was when first conceived.
Such might be the underlying reason for its surging popularity on Amazon and Netflix. If it does become an enduring Cult Classic, it will do so not only on the back of socially-chaotic elections in Europe and the United States, but also because of its lead. With an ever-dwindling cast, the movie does an excellent job of keeping you guessing who really is a main character. There are quite a few false starts. An incredible performance by Michael Nardelli (previously known for a recurring role ABC’s Revenge) will force you to re-watch the film several times to truly grasp the subtle genius at play. His presence elevates what might have been a mediocre movie into something memorable.
Unlike Cube, Circle does not keep you guessing in the end, though some might think it better off if it had. I took a lot out of the final scene and personally think leaving the end open to interpretation is an overwrought and lazy device that has been misused far to often. Circle does not make that mistake. Highly recommended.