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Circle of Bones (2020) Review

Circle of Bones was the third of three features Filipino writer/director Vincent Soberano filmed between 2018 and 2020. The other two, Blood Hunters: Rise of the Hybrids and The Trigonal: Fight for Justice, were fun B movies and this tale of cops and cultists sounded like the perfect material for a third one.

It opens with a SWAT team raiding a warehouse and finding traces of a human sacrifice, but no traces of the cultists who performed it. Unfortunately for them, whatever it was that they summoned is still there.

Looking for answers Detectives Liz Fajardo (Jana Victoria, Sherlock Jr., Mystified) and Bert Lim (Vincent Soberano) along with FBI Agent Borrelli (Stacey Michelon, General Commander, Sitsit) track down Karen Wu (Sarah Chang, Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday, The Teacher) a former FBI agent who was the only survivor of a previous investigation into the cult. She was found barely alive and repeating “Yawa” which means Devil over and over.

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Initially reluctant, she eventually tells what happened when she and INTERPOL agent Luciana Ramos (Marella Torre, Ang probinsyano, We Will Not Die Tonight) tried to infiltrate the group. Those flashbacks make up most of the film.

After the initial scenes, Soberano and co-writer Larry Dela Cruz treat Circle of Bones mostly as a police procedural, cutting between Karen being questioned in the present and her investigation with Luciana into what they think is merely a human trafficking operation. But on occasion the film cuts away to something horrific, but how we’re seeing them isn’t clear.

For example, at one point they’re questioning Aling Mercy (Suzette Ranillo, Video City: Be Kind, Please Rewind, Sex Games) she mentions a man who passed through the area talking about a circle of bones. We then cut away to footage of bodies and a man, presumably the one she’s talking about, meeting a bloody end. Did she witness this? Is one of the characters having a vision?

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Most of the time, though, Circle of Bones does a fairly good job of gradually blurring the lines between trafficking and cult activities, and then between that and actual supernatural activities. Granted, the prologue gave us the answer, but the film keeps you guessing as to when. Granted the script does have its issues, and things don’t always work, like the connection between one of the cops and the cult’s leader Eduardo (Ian Ignacio, BuyBust, Showdown in Manilla) which had me rolling my eyes.

But for the most part it’s enjoyably creepy, especially once they get into the cult’s underground lair and start running into its possessed/undead security system. Unfortunately, after bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion, Soberano and Cruz keep the film going a few scenes too long. And while those scenes add a bit of gore to the proceedings, it’s all so clichéd, and silly it detracts from the film. A mid-credits scene with prolific actor Joel Torre (On the Job, The Bourne Legacy) as a real estate agent adds nothing to the film.

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While Circle of Bones does get rather cheesy at times, it is an enjoyable kind of cheese. The kind that brings back memories of when the Philippines were giving us a stream of films like Raw Force and Beast of the Yellow Night. But even if you don’t remember the glory days of Pinoy trash cinema, you should enjoy Circle of Bones, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

Vertical Entertainment released Circle of Bones in theaters and on Digital Platforms in 2021, and it reached DVD in 2022. More recently, it’s become available on Tubi, at least in the US. The film’s Facebook page still gets occasional updates, you can check it for more information.

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