Have you heard the term?
High Strangeness is a buzzy expression applied to folks in the fields of the paranormal and/or the supernatural and/or cryptid research and/or phantom chasing and/or UFOlogy and/or Bigfoot and/or the Mothman and/or any other weird and/or bizarre phenomena. It’s a phrase that allows a person to suggest that they’re fans of any number of otherworldly experiences without having to nail it down to a single arena or two or three. In fact, there are some who even apply ‘High Strangeness’ to studied but unproven areas of authentic science, and the use of said label is really only to suggest that such fans consider themselves intellectually ‘inclusive’ as opposed to too discriminating. God bless whoever coined the phrase, as I think it’s damn near pitch perfect for those of us who truly believe the truth is out there. I consider myself amongst this storied clan of thinkers.
As a consequence, I’m especially tickled when a good motion picture comes around the bend that I get to talk about, and today’s big ticket item – Black Circle (2018) – is an award-nominated flick springing from the fertile mind of Adrian Garcia Bogliano. The storyteller’s profile on IMDB.com suggests that such territory – fateful that realm bordering Fantasy and Reality, between what is and what could be, where anything is possible – appeals to him, and I have to say that I enjoyed this foray probably more than most. (IMDB.com shows it presently maintains 4.7 out of 10.0 rating, and I think that’s a touch low.) Still, it’s one that’ll be a bit difficult to discuss below without spoiling his chosen framework. Normally, I don’t venture into them, but methinks I have to today as that’s the only way I can demonstrate how his set-up ultimately tarnishes the pay-off, putting the audience smack dab in the middle of not knowing what to make of an otherwise worthwhile effort.
So … consider yourself amply warned.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“The live of two sisters change dramatically, since they were hypnotized by a mystical vinyl record from the 1970s.”
Last chance, readers: if you don’t wish to be spoiled, then turn away now.
Celeste (played by Felice Jankell) visits her sister Isa (Erica Midfjäll) at work only to be surprised by how successful her sibling has suddenly grown to be. Hoping to curb Celeste’s inability to get things done, Isa recommends that she take home an old vinyl album found in their late uncle’s effects, a self-help recording meant to unlock a person’s inner potential. In reality, the record taps into some fringe science by way of subliminal suggestion to create a doppelganger – another living and breathing version of the listener – who might grow powerful enough to subvert Celeste’s existence right out from under her.
While some might find the idea more than a bit wacky, it works well enough for Bogliano’s design here, and – though amply supported by snippets of visual research spooling out in brief vignettes between the main story – it never quite rises to believability. Horror films – by their very nature – do require audiences to suspend a bit of disbelief, and Circle is no different. But as a central idea – meaning that one could somehow transcend consciousness with the creation of a personal double – it’s arguable a good enough foundation to craft this world around. The jumping back-and-forth between his main story and the recovered science films never gets in the way of the story; both might be a bit overlong – the film’s pacing does require a good degree of patience – but the halves complement one another to make for a successful whole.
Where the magic act kinda/sorta fails for me is in Bogliano’s execution. Curiously, the storyteller chose to bookend his film by suggesting that it was, in fact, the audience who was hypnotized in the process. To clarify, he opens the film with footage that clearly implies the viewers are being tasked to mentally ‘go into’ a black circle; and he closes the same by showing an obvious exit from the same. I interpret this to imply that none of what I watched was a real story – that I was placed into a trance wherein all of these events were given to me and then taken from me in the finale – and I think that cheapened the overall experience. If nothing contained within was authentic, then why make the trip? Doesn’t this mean that everything was fake? Why would you pull the rug out from such a clever mind trip?
Granted, maybe I’m overthinking what the director intended here, but even Bogliano – on the commentary track – points out that he deliberately intended to draw watchers in with the circle and release them in the final shot. Without further explanation, I’m left to conclude that the film sandwiched in-between was then little more than a magic trick. Like any magic trick, the Fantasy is lost once you know either how it works or that you were mislead … and I’m feeling mislead entirely by his admission.
Audiences don’t too kindly to it, either.
If I dismiss this whole idea (and that isn’t hard to do), then Circle works very effectively, and it achieves a fabulously spooky dynamic entirely on a budget. (I’ve searched online, but I’m unable to find the cost of its production.) It dabbles with the kind of substance viewers easily embrace – you can’t have light without the dark, you can’t have good without the bad, etc. – and this tale of two sisters might even tug at your heartstrings in small ways. Think of Circle like an overlong episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, and you’re not far off the beaten track.
I’d agree with anyone who suggested that it was a bit long – again, on the commentary, Bogliano details how he was pushed and pushed to trim his original run-time from 130-minutes down to this one’s 103 … and that’s still a bit long. Were this thing to clock in around 90-minutes, it might’ve had a greater chance to reach out, find a larger audience, and actually achieve a bit of notoriety. As it is, the pace (and the aforementioned construct) don’t serve the resulting picture as well as they should, and that’s the real shame here.
Black Circle was produced by Evilinski Productions, F, Klubb Super 8, Mondo Macabro, Penny Video, and a few other participants. (A full listing is available on IMDB.com for those who like that sort of minutiae.) DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at Synapse Films. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the sights-and-sounds of the Blu-ray release were quite good; there’s a bit of visual trickery here and there, and it’s all part-and-parcel of creating an older research and/or promotional film exploring this unique brand of hypnosis, so don’t be put off by that. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features, then the collection boasts a copy of the soundtrack (on compact disc), the director’s commentary, an interview with Bogliano and star Lindberg, a behind-the-scenes featurette, stills gallery, and the teaser trailer. It’s solid collection, so buckle up. (I have listened to the commentary, and it’s quite good. A bit dry here and there but still good.)
Recommended but …
It’s rare that I’m at a loss to have a good deal to say about a picture, but that’s the case with 2018’s Black Circle. Now … don’t get me wrong: I liked this one – honestly, I liked it a good deal – despite the fact that it’s a bit long, a bit confusing unnecessarily in a few spots, and a bit misdirected in the final estimation. It’s bookended with a visual technique that suggests what we just devoured may or may not have been legitimate – you’ll understand if you’re watching closely (or if you’ve read the spoilery details above) – and, if that’s the case, then I’m not fond of such trickery. But if I can take at face value what the film otherwise had to suggest about a possible avenue for fringe chicanery opening a portal into High Strangess? Oh, yes … I liked that delicious idea so very much …
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Synapse Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Black Circle (2018) by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.