The power of so many short films is in their ability to get us thinking. Within a short space of time, they can introduce us to entirely new worlds where we meet new and mysterious characters - and done properly, we can be left thinking about those worlds and characters for some time afterwards. It's a balance which is by no means easy to achieve, but Circles (the latest production by Hampshire-based filmmaking team Division Pictures) pulls it off perfectly.
Released on YouTube in October, Circles presents us with a dark and thought-provoking landscape. What we see is a world where nothing seems particularly bright or upbeat, but yet it is a world that is utterly beautiful. Something persistent across all of Division's work is their ability to get the most out of a filming location; to find all the right angles and shots. The result is something far greater than simply a video in a box on a website - it feels as though this is a real and tangible world, which could extend for three-hundred-and-sixty degrees around the viewer. In this case, we are plunged into a seemingly never-ending mass of forest and vegetation, which contributes a huge amount to the dramatic effect that this film has. Despite being a vast outdoor space (or so it would appear on-screen - all credit to the filmmakers if they have managed to produce this effect from what is really a somewhat smaller location, which is entirely possible), this is a place that feels claustrophobic, dangerous and unnerving.
Circles is a work which retains almost as much of its ambiguity after its closing credits as it does before pressing play - it is a film which makes very little information explicit but gives us enough detail to make up our own minds. We are introduced to a soldier known only as #00461, played by Elliot Burns with an intriguing air of darkness and mystery. This is a man who seems as deadly as he is vulnerable, as determined as he is lost. We learn precious little about 461, but (without giving anything away for those who may not have already seen the film), he has only so much history to be learnt in the first place...
Co-starring alongside Burns is Charlotte Culley, playing 'Young Girl'. Culley doesn't have as much dialogue as Burns, but to a certain extent this doesn't harm the drama too much, because these two characters' stories are very much intertwined. In the film's initial scenes we are treated to a sequence which hosts surprisingly little dialogue whatsoever, but the film still manages to pack a punch in its opening minutes with an intense race through the forest that feels like it is quite literally a matter of life and death. The cinematography and editing (by Division Pictures' Joe Goodall) is perfectly in tune with the nature of the storyline. In a strange way, we see something which (in the best way possible) feels frantic and rough - it almost makes the viewer feel that it is they who are scrambling through the undergrowth. Circles must be commended for pushing the envelope of filmmaking conventions, in order to make the film as immersive as possible for its audience.
Circles certainly has a dark edge to it - there is only one instance of strong language, and virtually no graphic detail (beyond one moment which, while shot in a way which treads carefully, might make the more squeamish of viewers wince), but this is a film that carries delicate and mature themes. As well as the evocative visuals, equal praise must also go to the music and sound design, which makes full use of the film's mysterious concept to make the audio captivating and enigmatic in equal measure - and yes, there are more than a couple of 'jump moments' in there too, so hold onto your seats.
With a storyline as intriguing and as unpredictable as this, it's difficult to go into too much detail without spoiling the surreal journey that Circles takes us on. In particular, the later scenes are almost impossible to review in any major detail without giving away their fascinating premise. But at over 22 minutes, Circles doesn't feel like it wastes a single moment of its running time, and is a highly recommended watch. With effective performances from its cast, stunning use of both indoor and outdoor locations, and all expertly tied together in the film's direction and editing, Circles tells a gritty and compelling story which very much enters the realm of science fiction while always remaining firmly grounded and totally plausible. It makes excellent use of its own format to convey a compelling narrative, while empowering its audience to ultimately decide what it all means.