50 people wake up in a room arranged in two concentric circles on a floor plan that looks like a board game. Everyone is standing on a small red circle of their own and if they try to step off of their circle or touch anyone next to them, they die. A small device (this one more of a dome than a circle, really) in the middle of the room zaps anyone that steps outside of their parameters. Time appears to be running out anyway for the whole group, as the device starts zapping and killing one person every two minutes. To further up the ante, it isn't long before the quickly dwindling group figures out they can vote who they want to die next, and ultimately who gets to survive.
Circle is the logical next step and first movie for co-directors and writers Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione who previously had a webseries called The Vault which is a sci-fi puzzle series that puts an individual puzzle-solver in a 6x6 room. Circle does much of the same thing, only this time cramming 50 people into a room, thereby upping the stakes and creating instant psychological dynamics.
Hann and Miscione clearly wanted an opportunity to work with more people, but the basic idea of The Vault has carried over in that their goal was to create a simple concept, that was also interesting and sustainable for the audience. The idea for Circle is indeed a simple one: how do you determine the value of human life? As stylized as Circle's appearance is, this question is what drives the movie. Critics have been comparing it to other sci-fi ventures such as Exam and Cube, but director Hann begs for a far more classic example in 12 Angry Men instead. At 88 minutes, the movie clips along rather rapidly, sometimes not allowing for more than slivers of stereotypes or the basics of human morality questions to poke through, but perhaps that's what happens when you have a killing machine on a two-minute timer in the room with you.
Circle was shot chronologically on a soundstage in LA over 10 days, allowing the remaining actors to grow concurrently with the psychological claustrophobia. Miscione reportedly would yell at the actors to maintain a constant feeling of mental strain (not be terrorizing, but more to remind) and would even have an earsplitting percussive sound cue every time someone was zapped to aid them. However, Matt Corboy, one of the actors, cited the sheer pleasure at being able to constantly witness the skill of his comrades as helping the most in maintaining the actual atmosphere of the movie. Some of this earned camaraderie was witnessed at SIFF as a whopping 47 of the 50 actors showed up for the world premiere, along with directors, film composer, and casting director. It's an interesting setting and has generated a unique space for Circle. Overall the concept is the driving point, but Hann and Miscione do an admirable job of juggling the different characters and create enough surprises to make it an entertaining jaunt.