Saturday, August 17, 2019

Scary Movies XII: Black Circle

By now, the booming market for audiophile vinyl should have everyone convinced of the LP’s superior sound quality. That is great when you are listening to vintage Blue Note jazz, but not so hot in the case of a creepy 1970s self-help album with the dangerous power to mesmerize listeners. At first, two sisters feel empowered by the record, but the experience takes a dark turn in Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s Black Circle, which screens during Scary Movies XII.

You could think of the Stockholm Center for Magnetic Research as the Swedish equivalent of Tony Robbin and other such self-help gurus, who initially seem beneficial, but soon drag the unwary into a state of abject horror. To be fair, the now-defunct Institute tried to recall their LP, but somehow Isa found one among the possessions of a distant relative who recently passed away. After experiencing sudden success at work after listening, she passes it on to her slacker grad student sister Celeste.

After duly spinning the B-side before falling asleep, she is suddenly able to whip out her thesis. However, her second listening is interrupted by a stoned friend. As a result, Celeste sees something pretty disturbing that scares off spinning the record any further. Unfortunately, the dark, otherworldly process unleashed by the record has progressed much further in Isa’s case. To save her sanity and possibly her life, the sisters seek help from the people who created it, Lena Carlsson, a “master magnetizer” and daughter of the institute’s founder and Mårten, her late father’s surviving right-hand man. Of course, the process will be fraught with peril, but two young psychics happen to show up just in time to help, as if they were compelled to be there.

Black Circle is a triumph of genre art direction, cinematography, and mise-en-scene that brilliantly recreates the look and tone of 1970s Euro-horror movies. Every detail is perfectly rendered. Yet, the narrative is still wholly original and completely engrossing. Frankly, this is the best horror or horror-ish film to play with doppelganger themes since maybe the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, far-eclipsing Jordan Peele’s Us (which was admittedly pretty good).

Without question, Circle’s MVP is Christina Lindberg, the Swedish 1970s exploitation star, who plays Carlsson like the daughter of Peter Cushing and Lin Shaye. She basically magnetizes viewers with her commanding presence. Hans Sandqvist is also appropriately Nordic and reserved as old Mårten, while Erica and Hanna Midfjäll really keep the audience off balance, as Isa and her double.

Spanish-born Bogliano has steadily built an international reputation as a horror master, but his best films, the English language Night of the Wolf (a.k.a. Late Phases) and now the Swedish-set Circle, have been produced outside the Iberian sphere of influence. In terms of the constituent elements, Circle is almost as much science fiction as horror, but Bogliano creates an unsettling sense of foreboding and cranks up the tension to wickedly high levels. This is definitely auteurist genre filmmaking. Very enthusiastically recommended, Black Circle screens Monday (8/19), as part of Scary Movies XII.