Black Circle [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Synapse Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (3rd November 2023).
The Film

Following a bad breakup, Celeste (The Bunker Game's Felice Jankell) has a hard time focusing, resulting in being fired from her job and still stuck on the first page of her college dissertation. One day, her estranged older sister Isa (Erica Midfjäll) contacts her and she goes to meet her, finding that she has completely turned her life around and is a successful businesswoman. Although she reads condescension into Isa's concern for her, her sister insists that she too can get her life in order with the help of a strange magnetism self-help record she had discovered in the house she inherited from a previously-unknown uncle. Dating from the sixties, the psychedelic-looking record begins with a dry lecture in which Dr. Lena Carlsson (Thriller: A Cruel Picture's Christina Lindberg) defines the difference between hypnotism and magnetism in the former depending on the susceptibility of the subject while the latter depends on the abilities of the "magnetizer," and Celeste is shocked to discover during a relaxation exercise that Lena's recorded voice is able to make her body obey her commands claiming that it actually Celeste's own will that controls her responses.

Celeste puts on the B-side of the record before going to sleep as directed and is surprised by the immediate results, blazing through her paper and rejoining her social circle; however, she is still insecure about her breakup and tries to lose herself in a bit of clubbing and Ketamine. Soon, she starts to feel that someone is following her and starts having nightmares and waking hallucinations of a distorted and violent version of herself. She goes to see her sister to find out more about the record only to learn from her secretary (Inger Nilsson who played Pippy Longstocking in a series of Swedish films in the sixties and seventies) that Isa has gone missing, her behavior having drastically changed as she became paranoid that someone was following her and trying to kill her. Isa bursts into her apartment needing the record like a fix, and Celeste herself sees signs that an actual living being is actually stalking her sister. Celeste thinks that only Lena Carlsson herself can help them; however, she does not realize that Lena is already expecting them since her home has been invaded by a psychic medium (singer Johan Palm) and a raver (The Circle's Hanna Asp) who have both been compelled by the "Supreme Being" to help her take on beings conjured into physical existence by the magnetism treatments she has long since disavowed for their dangerous side effects.

A Mexican/Swedish production shot in Sweden in the Swedish language from Spanish filmmaker Adrian Garcia Bogliano who had been specializing in the horror genre with shorts and features since the late nineties but who gained international recognition with 2010's Here Comes the Devil, Black Circle feels like a feature debut, not due to its execution – apart from a few boring drone shots, the film looks quite slick yet also sedate in that "Scandinavian" feel of the sixties (cinematographer Dario Goldgel started out as the second unit director of Bogliano's Here Comes the Devil) – and more so because of the intimate focus of its story which largely eschews action in favor of a meditation on the need for humans to reconcile both the positive and negative aspects of their personalities, and a fantastical depiction of the repercussions of trying to completely suppress or exorcise an entire half of one's self. The suspense comes not from the possibility of physical violence enacted upon one side by the other but the possibility that the "original" may be replaced by another perceived as the negative but possessing their own sense of self and belief in their right to exist; with the horrific possibility of what will happen to one of them when the other (original or copy) prevails.

Performances are strong, with Lindberg given perhaps more dialogue than the entirety of her more widely-seen filmography and she is up to the task of not only conveying exposition in an academic but compelling manner as well as demonstrating the forcefulness of her will against Palm who is less selfless than his girlfriend, and Hans Sandqvist as her former colleague who may or may not be carrying out experiments behind her back. Veteran actress Iwa Boman has a smaller but unnerving role as Lena's sister who was a victim of an unsuccessful attempt to merge two separated halves. The more fantastical elements of the visuals are visualizations of the recording as well as flashes of the sisters' childhood that suggest a locus of their crippling insecurities without any overt references to any abuse, suggesting that loss has affected both of them even if one was better at hiding it than the other. The film's retro synth score is the work of Rickard Gramfors who had previously directed a documentary on Thriller: A Cruel Picture featured on the Vinegar Syndrome release of the film.


Digitally-photographed and graded, Black Circle has a naturalistic look during the story proper while the dreams and flashbacks were either shot on 8mm film or digitally manipulated to look like it while actual digital visual effects are present but subtly-employed. Synapse Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.39:1 widescreen Blu-ray utilizes the same master as the Scandinavian Blu-ray from 2019; however, that edition encoded the video in the older MPEG-2 codec. While that usually requires a higher bitrate to equal the superior compression of a AVC codec, we have not have the opportunity to directly compare the two discs and some older MPEG-2 Blu-rays still hold up well against later editions with the same master.


The Swedish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is front-oriented when it comes to the many dialogue-dominated scenes – the film was shot with live sound – while the score for the most part does a better job than the sound design during those sweeping drone shots, and the surrounds become much more active during the third act of the film set in various planes of existence. Optional English subtitles are available.


Extras are all ported from the Scandinavian edition, but all of them were in English anyway (unlike the film). On the audio commentary by director Adrián García Bogliano, he discusses the influence of a psychology class teacher who had done hypnotism demonstrations on television – as well as the cinematic influence of the independent cerebral sci-fi pic Primer – adapting the screenplay to Swedish culture, the many Swedish film references buried in the art direction – including some films owned by co-producer and Swedish genre film library owner Klubb Super 8 who co-produced along with Synapse Films, Mondo Macabro, and some other international genre entities – the reasoning behind dividing the film into chapters, and recurring motifs like water imagery. He also discusses how operating his own camera and an adept focus puller allowed the entire film to be shot in a twelve day schedule, and not only using Midfjäll's sister to play her doppelganger but also utilized some trickery in using her in some shots intended to be of Isa's character.

"Inside Black Circle" (9:04) is a brief piece with sound bytes from all of the principal cast members, but the disc also includes a career overview interview with director Adrián García Bogliano and actress Christina Lindberg (57:27) in which Lindberg discusses doing a small role while still in college and deciding to leave school and move to Stockholm to become an actress, with anecdotes about her better-known films starting with Cannon's Maid in Sweden.

Also included is the 2017 short film "Don’t Open Your Eyes" (10:55) which is essentially a teaser for the feature, revealing some scenes that were reworked for the film while others actually originate here but are reworked with clever editing and integration of new footage. Lindberg exists only in the film as an image of her younger self on the album and as a voice on the record, and the climax is different.

The disc also includes a teaser trailer (1:08) and a still gallery (14:07).


A limited slipcover edition is available directly from Synapse Films and DiabolikDVD, but thankfully the soundtrack CD (18 tracks; 58:07) is included here in the standard edition as well (along with an insert featuring the track listing).


The Spanish genre specialist director of the better-known Here Comes the Devil takes a more cerebral turn with Black Circle.


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