Joseph’s Review: Black Circle (Another Hole in the Head Film Fest)

★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

An esoteric recording from the 1970s finds two sisters pitted against the physical manifestations of their negative energy in this instant classic of a psychological chiller.

Directed by Adrián García Bogliano

It is only fitting that a film about a discipline related to hypnotism and the power of suggestion should be a mesmerizing experience. Mexican/Swedish coproduction Black Circle (Svart Cirkel), the latest from writer/director Adrián García Bogliano (Here Comes the Devil [2012] and director of Night of the Wolf [AKA Late Phases; 2014] is just that: an auteur-driven cinematic experience that grips viewers from the beginning and keeps its hold until beyond the closing credits. 

Black Circle begins with footage for the Stockholm Institute for Magnetic Research’s 1970s correspondence course for “Improving Life Through Magnetism,” which claims magnetism is the only way for people to reach their full potential. Hypnosis requires suggestible individuals, according to the footage, while magnetism depends on the capability of the magnetizer. 

Fangoria! Woo!

Fast forward to today: elder sister Isa (Erica Midfjäll) is a suddenly successful woman in the corporate world, and she owes it all, she tells underachieving younger sister Celeste (Felice Jankell), to the Institute’s record album from the seventies. Isa urges a skeptical Celeste to listen to side B as she drifts off to sleep each night. After the first night, Celeste wakes up to find herself motivated to work on her thesis, but an overnight visit from a drug-using friend interrupts Celeste’s further listening — for the better, it seems, because Celeste had fleeting nightmarish visions and a disheveled Isa now claims that her double (Hanna Midfjäll) is following her and that the record has ruined her life.

Isa is correct: the sisters are being followed by “ethereal doubles,” physical manifestations of the negativity in their lives. They seek help from the album’s creator and master magnetizer Lena Carlsson (cult film icon Christina Lindberg [Thriller: A Cruel Picture and Anita: Swedish Nymphet; both 1973]) — who was told of their imminent arrival by a young backpacking couple with psychic powers — and her assistant Mårten (Hans Sandqvest). What follows is a trip — in more ways than one — to attempt to coax the negative manifestations back into the sisters’ bodies before they become more powerful than the women. 

Bogliano combines an ever-growing sense of dread and paranoia that begins right from Black Circle’s esoteric opening with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments of terror and longer spellbinding set pieces. The mise-en-scene has a 1970s Eurohorror vibe, artfully designed and lit, with superb cinematography by frequent Bogliano collaborator Dario Goldgel. The sound design featuring the scratch of vinyl records and echoing telepathic voices, along with the often haunting and occasionally eerily playful score from Rickard Gramfors, further heighten the film’s sensory experiences. 

Lindberg is outstanding as the master magnetizer, commanding viewer attention with her entrancing presence. Jankell, the Midfjäll sisters, Sandqvest, and the rest of the supporting players are all terrific.

Black Circle is top-notch psychological horror with a sci-fi bent that, as a doppelganger tale, rivals the best of the remakes of, and films inspired by, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Bogliano was already a rising new talent in the horror genre, but with this dazzling feature, he has achieved true auteur status. 

Black Circle screened at Another Hole in the Head Film Fest, which ran December 1st –15th at New People Cinema in San Francisco.

Review by Joseph Perry

Categories: Festivals, ReviewsTags: , ,

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