You don’t necessarily need special effects or wild visuals to create a sci-fi horror film that’s all about weird and wild concepts. Films like Primer and Coherence do a fine job going full head trip on very small budgets. So long as the ideas are interesting and characters well-realized, we can go along with just about anything.
This is the kind of film offered by Black Circle, a Swedish suspense thriller that delves into an entire universe of weirdness, all without breaking the bank. Whether it all makes sense or not is another question, however.
The film focuses on two sisters, Isa and Celeste. Celeste is a bit of a screw up and until recently, so was Isa. But now Isa has a job and an office and everything seems to be going her way, a success she achieved through listening to an old hypnosis record owned by a recently deceased relative. As an act of kindness, Isa convinces Celeste to give the record a try as well. Then she too can live a life of success and happiness.
As you might expect, this does not go well. Before Celeste can get too overrun by the hypnosis record, her sister appears, ranting and raving about a double of herself trying to take over her life. It turns out the record has a sinister of splitting listeners into two halves which struggle for dominance. The sisters decide to track down the record’s creator for answers and the film starts getting really weird.
Again, through basically nothing but dialog, Black Circle starts throwing all kinds of stuff at us with little regard for how it all might sound to a casual moviegoer. Led by Thriller: A Cruel Picture’s Christina Lindberg, we are immediately confronted by a casual world of doppelgängers, psychic lovers and even some kind of otherworldly gatekeeper known as The Supreme. The film’s second half involves the struggle to reunite Isa with her split self, and it’s likely you’ll spend a good amount of it wondering what the heck is going on.
But I do appreciate the bravado of suddenly having, say, two characters communicate telepathically out of nowhere. There is a real gutsiness to the way Black Circle demands rather than ask you to follow its bizarre logic.
It is an interesting film in terms of form as well, utilizing subtle tactics to make audiences uneasy. The sound design plays tricks on you. Characters appear to stutter in the frame but as soon as you notice it they’ve already stopped. The camera never stops moving, making it seem as if the cinematography itself is nervous.
All this effort is respectable but doesn’t mean the film is a success overall. While I enjoyed the presentation and admired the world building attempted with such limited budget, this is also a cold experience with a finale that borders on incomprehensible and goes on far too long. It’s possible Black Circle’s reach exceeds its grasp, and while it’s cool to see a scrappy film like this not let budget get in the way of its big ideas, it also leaves dialog solely responsible for sharing concepts it’s perhaps not best suited for. On the other hand, I’d rather a film try something like this and fail than not try at all.