EVIL Gets Loopy in “Welcome to The Circle” reviewed! (Artsploitation Films / Blu-ray)

Greg and his young daughter Samantha are turning out the lights on a camping trip in the woods.  When a bear attacks in the middle of the night, Greg awakens in the care of a commune-like camp.  Injured but alive, Greg is given the grand tour of the encampment of a cult known as The Circle where he rejoins with his happy-go-lucky daughter and meets a few other strange and unusual members who worship the legacy and the omnipotent existentialism of The Circle’s creator, Percy Stephens.  What the father-daughter combo don’t realize is that The Circle is a demon worshipping cult bidding on the whimsical demands of Percy Stephen’s rancor and malice.  A group of outsiders led by Grady, a former cult member in his youth, are determined to rescue and reprogram one of the followers close to them, but step into an upside-down world, demonized with smoke and mirrors, set on swallowing their souls for the sake of Percy Stephens delight. 

A diabolical drip of disorienting deception, “Welcome to The Circle” is a roundabout from Hell, cordially ostracizing the love and blessings ideology for more sinister, soul-sucking profit of an unconventional demon film.  “Welcome to the Circle” is a Canadian-made debut independent feature from write-director David Fowler and Fowler, better known for his work on documentaries, knocks on the door of insanity with a tailspin narrative that collides John Carpenter’s “In the Mouth of Madness” with Clive Barker’s “Lord of Illusions” with Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s “The Endless” rapping at the door and the results are an enigmatic nightmare full of stone faced mannequins, body inhabiting occupations, a series of blackhole peculiarities, and being eaten alive by crazed acolytes.  The Vancouver, British Columbia based Canadian company, High Deaf Productions, embarks into the feature film bazaar, with Mack Benz and Michael Khazen serving as company producers, with co-production association from Corvid Arts and Upfront Films.

Broken into two parts, the narrative opens the first portion up to familiarize with the cultist sheep in the stark white attire of wolves’ clothing that throws Greg and his daughter Samantha’s kismet into the uncertain pit of a demon’s impish thirst for souls.  When introduced to Greg (“Dragged Against Concrete’s” Matthew MacCaull), much of the character falls below the waist side as a single father detached from his own child and surrounded by conniving zealots that funnels into becoming weak, if not also immaterial when MacCaull is unable to explore Greg more in depth.  Nothing against MacCaull who performs well enough with an unsympathetic character that has a cold shoulder connection with his insubordinate child and no real background fuel a feed into Greg’s worth as one of the mainstay roles.  I also thought a little more on The Circle’s followers would be constructive to The Circle’s reason for fervor and appeal, but instead, Sky (“Supergirl” television series’” Andrea Brooks), Lotus Cloud (“Pacific Rim’s” Heather Doerksen), Rebekah (“The Wrong Daughter’s” Cindy Busby), and Matthew (“The Unspoken’s” Michael J. Rogers) are members developed only inside a crumbling hierarchy structure obtaining cryptic messages from a demon, Percy Stephens, from beyond their plane of existence.  Percy Stephens is perhaps the best complex character in the fold without having a stable foundational actor in his shoes and is played by various faces of the film’s cast able to reach back toward an immense and mysterious backstory that involves a slew of daring and impressive accomplishments and a demonic tiger shark that may or may not be Stephen’s aquatic damnation to Hell.  The second portion moves greatly away from Greg and his daughter and into a rescue operation, led by the unfiltered and unorthodox Grady, a former The Circle youth who landed in a psyche ward only to be hired to infiltrate the cult to extract Rebekah, paralleling his motives to understand the mechanics of the cult that led to the disappearance of his mother.  “Stan Helsing’s” Ben Cotton delivers a performance that is anything but vanilla as the sharp wit and cool as a cucumber Grady, dominating each and every scene in a disheveled and aloof veneer that becomes Grady’s best defense against Percy Stephen’s engaging entanglements.  The cast rounds out with Taylor Dianne Robinson (The Twilight Saga:  Breaking Dawn Part 2), Hilary Jardine (“Teen Lust”), Matt Bellefleur (“In Their Skin”), Christian Tessier (“Night of the Demons III”) and Jordana Largy (“Rememory”). 

It suffices to say that David Fowler’s topsy-turvy and boundless the fake-fake, a descriptor of the story’s in-between existences, is an alternate universe complete with hope chest portals and wraith approaches that will disrupt the audio and visual perceptions, disconnecting the straightforward wiring only to cross the stepping stones of normalized story structures to fissure what we know into a fractured reality.  The foyer to oblivion, the fake-fake, isn’t an easy one to digest and Fowler is very much aware of the real-real consequences of traversing into the world of the fake-fake.  Fowler forces you to pay a penance for crossing the threshold that will cause dizziness and nausea, the same affects the characters sometimes experience through the compressed spaces of time and planes of The Circle, soldering an unintentionally immersive experience with the combination of simple and natural cinematography infused effects that spun, tilted, and corralled acute fear and isolation from under the DP supervision of Sterling Bancroft. In regards to Fowler’s darkly imaginative story, the script a lively progression of diverse ideas and concepts that construct a little world within a bigger world, especially on a modestly tight budget that can’t afford mind-blowing special effects, but the cohesiveness is heavily reliant on the character’s to explain the actions that are occurring to progress an outline and much of that explanation falls into poetic prose and riddles. Characters Percy Stephens and Grady to much of the grunt work in vocalizing the visuals, but the course is a rocky road and with every bump there’s a meaning within a meaning and to know the meaning is to meaning to know. See what I mean? “Welcome to the Circle” chips away the substantial concrete barrier with a bombardment of incorporeal flak that comes in wave-after-wave of full blown auteur creativity.

 

To get caught in the loop is to loop in getting caught and that’s what Artsploitation Films has done by acquiring and distributing “Welcome to The Circle” on a Blu-ray home entertainment release. Presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the digitally recorded picture is about as immaculate as they come nowadays with tactile textures of grainy log of the cabins, the floral of the forest, and the scruff of Matthew’s bristly beard all looking particular sharply detailed albeit some minor fluctuations of softness seeping into the brush and into more dreamlike sequences and though flat, the colors due run unbridled with the forestry green and the eggshell color of mannequin “skin” that renders subtle differences more distinct. Darker scenes render nicely and smoothly without as much of a flicker of interference and Bancroft’s use of depth forces audiences to focus only on what’s extremely close up or what’s faraway by way of adjusting the focal length. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio also has little-to-no complains with a well rounded discernible platter of clear, forefront dialogue, depth and range of vocals and ambience, and a combination score and soundtrack by Reid Hendry with original and haunting folk tracks by Jo Krasevich do an insidious one-two punch that bruises the soul. The not rated, 93-minute film comes with only a theatrical trailer in the bonus features. Despite the dense ambiguity that surrounds the film, the demonic ensnaring doom that accompanies “Welcome to The Circle” is, simply put, psychosis in a bottle that director David Fowler just effortlessly uncorked.

Own “Welcome to the Circle” on Blu-ray!

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