Welcome to the Circle Poster

Review: Welcome to the Circle (2020)

Frequently, a filmmaker directs his first feature after doing some short films or working in various production capacities on other films. David Fowler, the writer/director of Welcome to The Circle, took a slightly different route. He actually wrote four full length films before Welcome to The Circle. The thing is, they were all nature documentaries for Disney. Which may explain some of this film’s dialogue, he may still have been trying to think like a penguin when he wrote it.

Greg (Matthew MacCaull, Black Fly, Hailey Dean Mystery) and his daughter Samantha (Taylor Dianne Robinson) are on a camping trip when they’re attacked by what appears to be a bear. Greg is injured, but Samantha manages to get away and bring back help in the form of Lotus Cloud (Heather Doerksen, Hidden, Pacific Rim) and Sky (Andrea Brooks, Supergirl). They’re members of a cult called The Circle, and they and their leader Mathew (Michael J. Rogers, Beyond the Black Rainbow) are not anxious to see their new guests leave.

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Their insistence that the two stay goes from annoying to sinister overnight when Greg sees them eating someone alive. And not in the way I’d want them to. He and Samantha try to escape, but become separated. Complicating things is Grady (Ben Cotton, Cold Pursuit, The Unseen), a former member turned deprogrammer. He’s been in contact with one of the cultists and is coming to rescue them. But The Circle may not let any of them go.

Welcome to the Circle is a bizarre film that mixes more standard evil cult tropes with elements of The Endless. There’s also some business with mannequins and masks that put me in mind of Tourist Trap. And then the cult’s dead leader Percy Jones shows up, he’s not just dead, he’s died many times. “Dying is what makes The Circle go round.”

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And if that seems cryptic, just wait until you hear about the meaning being the message. And the message being the meaning. So to understand, you have to guess the meaning of the meaning. And there’s lots more like it. I don’t know if it was meant to be profound or to tell us the cultists are nuts, but all it did was make my head hurt.

Which is too bad because I’m sure Welcome to The Circle would have been more effective if I had a better idea just what was going on. But between the dialogue and seemingly random footage that kept getting shown, I was frequently left confused, and not in a good way. The basic concepts are certainly interesting, especially the ideas of circles of reality. And I at least stayed curious up until the end as to what was going on. And how it would all play out. But despite that, and some imaginative imagery, it’s not very compelling without a context or framework to put it in.

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It feels like Fowler had the start of something interesting, but couldn’t pull the details together. So he strung it along with anything that seemed like it might work. And you can patch over a few individual plot holes like that, but not the whole script. Welcome to The Circle really needed another rewrite and/or a co-writer before it was filmed.

If you’re looking for something weird and have the patience and/or drugs for it, Welcome to The Circle might be your film. But most viewers will be left wondering what they just saw. Artsploitation Films will release Welcome to The Circle on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital on October 27th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information.

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