WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE (2020)
Directed by David Fowler
Written by David Fowler
Starring Matthew MacCaull, Taylor Dianne Robinson, Ben Cotton, Cindy Busby, Hilary Jardine, Andrea Brooks, Matt Bellefleur, Heather Doerksen, Spencer Drever, Jordana Largy, Michael J Rogers, Christian Tessier
Find out more about this film here!!
A man and his daughter are camping in the woods when it seems like a bear attack leaves them wounded and in need of shelter. Thankfully, a group of cultists called the Circle are nearby and take the two of them in. As the man mends, the little girl is indoctrinated into the cult and both find themselves enmeshed in its bizarre beliefs and rituals. Surrounded by mannequins wearing masks, the cultists worship a deity called Percy Stevens, who transcended death long ago and still influences the cultists. Meanwhile, a trio of investigators attempt to infiltrate the cult. One of them, a child-member of the Circle, returns with vengeance and closure on his mind, but finds that it is harder to escape the cult than he believed.
I’ll give it to David Fowler, the writer and director of WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE. He has created a wild and odd little film here. Of course, filling scenes with mannequins and making live people wear emotionless masks is always going to be the stuff of nightmares and this film has a lot of these scenes. On a sheer visual level, WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE has a way of squirming into your psyche and making you feel utterly uncomfortable. There are tons of scenes of these mannequins in realistic poses with live actors among them that works every time in making things feel nice and creepy.
That said, I found WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE to be a tough pill to swallow when it comes to inner logic and basic storytelling. If you’re the type that needs straight forward storytelling to like a film, this one ain’t it. There’s some kind of inner logic going on with the ways of the Circle, but I don’t think the film does a great job of communicating it. The film is highly obtuse, especially in regards to dialog shared between those in the know about to what’s going on and those who have no clue. Usually, in this instance, the clueless person in the film represents the viewer and it’s a good way of communicating complex material by having an expert or some kind of guide tell us about the rules of the game. But there really are no rules going on in WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE. With dialog like “The message is the meaning and the meaning is the message.” and people talking about “reigning over everything and nothing.” there really is no explanation as to what is going on. It’s just clever guru-speak that seems deep and meaningful, but really simply word play making up space for an actual explanation. This goes on a little too long for my tastes and really makes the film hard to endure as these back and forthings go on for eons, making this hour thirty minute film feel double its length.
It’s too bad WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE shoots itself in the foot by trying to be too clever with an off-kilter storyline, no inner logic, and shallow word-play. I liked the way the film intersperses black and white stock footage, and of course, the masks and mannequins are creepy as all get out. If Fowler tried to do a more down to earth film with similar visuals, I think it would have been a much more successful film. Instead, too much is left unexplained and everyone is walking around feeling clever and superior for the word-hackey-sacking going on, which really turned me off to the bulk of this odd and dream-like little misfire.