A camping misadventure forces a young girl and her father into the realm of a madman worshiping cult known as The Circle. As the pair become trapped in The Circle’s increasingly frightening sphere of indoctrination, a case-hardened professional cult deprogrammer and his two clients attempt to kidnap/reclaim one of group’s members. Grizzly rituals are soon revealed to be part of a terrifying, surreal, alternate reality that has been constructed by the cult’s mysterious, isolated leader. Escape is the only objective, but all of them are trapped in The Circle.
Artsploiation Films is usually known for procuring foreign language films of a somewhat extreme nature. There is usually a little gratuitous gore, a splash of sexual violence, and often a pinch of exploitation cinema. I was definitely curious to see what they picked up as an American offering and whether it would follow the aforementioned themes.
Cult movies can be masterpieces of suspense and terror or disappointments of cheese and cringe. A lot of which way the film will lean depends heavily on actor playing the cult leader. They have to be larger than life, charismatic and “spiritual.” I’d argue that to pull off a good cult leader in a film, the actor would theoretically need to be able to pull it off in the real world. We need to see why people would follow this man or woman and devote their lives to them. Granted, people are stupid…but even those at the bottom of the gene pool would need at least a little convincing to form that conviction. Welcome to the Circle bypasses all of that logic and takes a road rarely walked.
Welcome to the Circle really through me for a loop (pun intended). I was not enjoying the movie at all during the first act. It was just too…typical. The cult members were absolutely overacting and Samantha (Taylor Dianne Robinson) was playing the typical bratty kid without a personality. Matthew MacCaull’s then protagonist “Greg” played his part well but was the only really likeable character and was not doing enough to keep me invested. I expected that I’d have to plod through the film to squeeze out a shitty review and be done.
That was not to be the case. The film pulls a Genocyber and switches protagonists, reveals the big bad’s true identity, and adds extra faces for the body count. More importantly, we get Grady (Ben Cotton). Cotton completely shakes up the film and brings crazed Clint Eastwood-esque hero into the mix. Sure, the character is a little over the top (Think the Ash Williams of cults) but this twist completely changes the tempo of the film. We get action, we get portals, we get interplanar pockets and mirror people, we get tons and tons of mannequins for some reason but whatever…it rocked. Robinson’s Sam also gets something of an overhaul, showing that the child actor can do a lot more than the stereotypical mindless whining.
Let’s not pretend though that this isn’t an indie production. It is. It is dam well made though and I loved the nigh Lovecraftian concepts and the planar narratives. The effects were really clever but never expensive and mostly practical. That didn’t matter though. What mattered more to me was the journey and I feel that the film really delivered there in every way. Some scenes were cheesy, some actors better than others, some moments not quite where they should have been (especially at the start of the film) and others completely ludicrous…but as the sum of its parts, Welcome to the Circle was a journey worth making.
It is a journey into madness and oftentimes makes little sense, which is kind of the point of the cult itself. If you’ve seen 2007’s Believers, then you may have an inkling of what you are in for. I just like the fact that it tried to be different and wasn’t afraid to wave its freak flag. It does not deserve its IMDb score and should probably be sitting at around a 6, but I’m sure a lot of those voters were turned off by the films rocky start.
If you like the weird, the strange, and the très bizarre then give the film a chance. I pushed through and was thankful for the experience. It’s not what you would expect from a film centred around a cult and is more of a cosmic horror at its core. Thanks for reading and as always, stay sordid. Poster, trailer, and links below.
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