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Circle Line (2023) Review

Billed as Singapore’s first monster movie, Circle Line (生死环线) has been around since at least 2019 when footage was screened at The Asia Film & TV Market ahead of a planned 2020 release. And then, thanks to COVID, it seemed to drop off the face of the Earth until earlier this year when it turned in Singapore’s theatres and is now on the country’s Netflix.

As Yi Ling (Jesseca Liu, Bring Back the Dead, Greedy Ghost) gets her son Lucas (Nathaniel Ng, Final Exam, Huan Express) ready for school we see s scar on the boy’s back. That’s from a car accident that killed his father and nearly killed him as well. Both are still dealing with it, she has frequent flashbacks to it and Lucas has become quiet and withdrawn.

Later in the day, after failing to make the school’s basketball team, Janice (Ashley Seow) calls her father, who consoles her with the thought she can try again next year. Angrily, she reminds him she graduates this year.

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Director J.D. Chua (Bad Throttle, Scene City), who interned with both Michael Mann and Jason Blum before returning to Singapore, along with his co-writers Tang Chi Sim and Siew Pek Chye gives us fast introductions to these three characters before putting them all on the night’s last train. He also introduces us to Janice’s father Bo Seng (Peter Yu, A Land Imagined, Benjamin’s Last Day at Katong Swimming Complex) an official working for the subway department and under pressure to stop a rash of malfunctions. So it’s no surprise when a malfunction sends the train down a disused, but not empty, tunnel.

Plotwise, Circle Line doesn’t offer anything new. Once it shows up the creature, a giant lizard/rat hybrid, quickly thins out the train’s passengers, leaving our small group of survivors to make their way through the tunnels to safety. As they do, Bo and the team in the subway’s control center try to figure out what happened and locate the train and any survivors. Like another recent Asian creature feature, The Lake, it eventually takes inspiration from The Host and has the creature make off with Lucas.

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Chua makes the mistake of killing most of the extraneous characters off quickly, not to mention off-screen, rather than spacing them out to keep the viewer in suspense. Instead, we get lots of talk between the estranged father and daughter and scenes of people wandering around in the dark. I understand this was a relatively low-budget film, but you still need something to hold the viewer’s interest when the monster isn’t around.

When we do see the creature it’s CGI and not particularly good CGI either. It’s not as bad as some of the Chinese creature features that have been reviewed here, but they’re a decade or so behind what would be considered acceptable.

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We’re also never told just what the creature is. We know that it’s the little creature we see in the boy’s terrarium in Circle Line’s prologue, but what it is and how it became so huge are never explained. Some of the early articles referred to it as a lizard/rat hybrid, but it certainly doesn’t look like it’s part rat, and nothing is said in the film about its origin. The animation under the opening credits suggests it was experimented on, but why and by who is left a mystery.

Chua also fails to exploit the claustrophobic potential of the subway’s tunnels and the idea of being trapped so far underground. He should have watched End of the Line for a great example of how to exploit that kind of setting and keep the tension ramped up even when nothing is happening. Instead, Circle Line ends up a fairly dull and predictable monster movie that won’t do much for most fans of the genre.

Circle Line is available on Netflix in some territories. You can keep an eye on the film’s website or Facebook page for updates on its availability. And while you wait, you can check FilmTagger for more monster madness to tide you over.

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