Circle: Spooky Story of Serial Murder

Circle 2010Directed by Michael Watkins, veteran of horror-tinged television shows like THE X-FILES, WAREHOUSE 13, MILLENNIUM and THE 4400, this story of an escaped serial killer features an impressive cast and some nicely atmospheric cinematography. Emmy nominee Gail O’Grady (NYPD Blue) plays a psychologist who aids the FBi and a team of U.S. Marshalls in hunting down James Bennett (Silas Weir Mitchell, PRISON BREAK), a criminally-insane mental patient and murderer who brutally tortures and slaughters a group of his fellow inmates. The film opens with bloody, brutal imagery: Bennett in a bleak room, surrounded by his victims who are tied to chairs formed into a circle. Most are dead, some not quite. After he manages to escape, we’re introduced to a rag-tag group of graduate students who are about to embark on a field study project for their final thesis: they’re traveling to Bennett’s childhood home to look for information and clues to his psychosis. Naturally, they don’t know Bennett has escaped and is likewise headed to his childhood home. Oh, and the house is in the middle of nowhere with no cellular phone service!

It’s a prime set-up for what ensues, and there are some intriguing twists along the way: especially when one of the graduate students turns out to have some disturbing loyalties. The film feels more like horror as it begins, then seems to shift genres to being a slick cop thriller about halfway through. Brad Tiemann’s screenplay is perhaps too ambitious, and occasionally too dialogue-driven. But I did find the story fairly absorbing, and the performances all credible and competent. Mitchell is nicely creepy as Bennett, a man oddly obsessed with Greek mythology and philosophy. Television character actor Peter Onorati gives a juicy turn as a cynical, ballsy detective determined to haul in Bennett by any means possible. This role actually made me think this film might have worked better if it had been a crime thriller about a psychopathic killer, not a horror film about a psychopathic killer. But even given a misplaced sense of genre at times, when Circle decides to be a horror film, its intense visuals and creepy mood are more than up to the task.

CIRCLE (2010, direct to video). Directed by Michael W. Watkins. Written by Brad Tiemann. Cast: Gail O’Grady, Silas Weir Mitchell, America Olivo. Jason Thompson, Michael DeLuise, Peter Onorati, Erin Reese, Kinsey Packard, Erin Foster, James Francis Kelly III, Rita Taggart, Will Stiles, Ryan Doom

About the Author

Peg Aloi

Peg Aloi is a freelance critic, mostly for the Boston Phoenix, and she teaches film studies. She's a reluctant academic, a passionate cinephile, and probably slightly more bad-ass than you. She is currently co-writing two books: The Glass Cauldron: The History of Witchcraft on Television, and The Celluloid Bough: Cinema in the Wake of the Occult Revival. Her film blog is The Celluloid Bough.

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