Black Circle first look review: FrightFest Glasgow 2019

Adrián García Bogliano’s magnetically mesmeric ‘cult’ movie Black Circle will mess with your head.

A faded, jumpy film reel from the 1970s, part of a correspondence course from the ‘Stockholm Institute for Magnetic Research’, claims to help the viewer deal with the modern age’s ‘duality of the self’. The method used, similar to – but not the same as – hypnosis, promises to allow subjects to reach their ‘full potential as an individual’. This film, which is equally the beginning of Adrián García Bogliano’s Black Circle (Svart Cirkel), offers a deep dive not just into the human psyche, but also into the hippy-dippy self-realisation fads of a bygone age, immediately recalling the retro-cultic vibe of Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond The Black Rainbow.

Yet in case we imagine that we are immune to the effects of footage from which we are distanced by time, space and reality, the video ends by inviting its viewers, inevitably including us, to concentrate on the black circle at the centre of a spiralling, mesmeric pattern. Obeying this instruction ensures that the next image – a static shot in the present day of a man’s desiccated corpse – appears to warp and ripple before our very eyes with the retinal residue of what we have just seen. We are already under this film’s influence, dividing ourselves between the real world that we normally occupy, and the imaginative spaces that we have chosen to inhabit, however vicariously, on the screen.

It turns out that the Stockholm Institute for Magnetic Research also produced an experimental LP, a rare copy of which was found among the personal effects of the dead man Lündstrom (a cameo from producer/composer Rickard Gramfors) by his distant relative Isa (Erica Midfjäll). Suddenly successful, Isa passes the record onto her sister Celeste (Felice Jankell), assuring her that listening to the B-side just before falling asleep will lift her from her arrested stasis and turn her life around. Instead, both young women find themselves being followed by emergent manifestations of their negative halves, or ‘Ethereal Doubles’. So they turn to the record’s original creator and ‘Master Magnetiser’ Lena Carlsson (Christina Lindberg) for help with escaping, or even reintegrating, the shadow of their wayward selves.

In Black Circle, Spanish-born Bogliano maintains a methodology that, in his previous titles Cold Sweat, Here Comes The Devil, Late Phases and Scherzo Diabolico and in his script for Daniel de la Vega’s White Coffin, has consistently reaped rewarding surprises: for he adopts recognisable genre elements and defamiliarises them by turning them on their head or sending them down odd narrative pathways. In his latest, the doppelgänger trope is both (pseudo-)rationalised and thoroughly remythologised, while the ritual of exorcism is reverse-engineered, taking us on a strange trip whose itineraries and pitstops are as unpredictable as the film’s generic identity is unstable.

Even as Black Circle returns not just to antique media (the Institute’s old films and record) but to a previous generation (the wonderful Lindberg is a veteran of Seventies exploitation features like Bo Arne Vibenius’ 1973 rape-revenger Thriller: A Cruel), it reconjures an older mode of SF horror, more reliant on inventive ideas and marginal science than on whizz-bang effects. The combination here, so brilliantly disorienting, of unnatural events and a measured, clinical tone is reminiscent of Tilman Singer’s similarly backward-looking Luz. The result is a low-key journey into the uncanny, where a ragtag ensemble of hypnotists, technicians, psychics and ancient creatures work together to restore to this world (and to the next) a balance that perhaps never – or perhaps always – exists. Along the way, Black Circle – which prominently features celluloid reels and even, in late scenes, an actual cinema – confronts us with the anxiety-inducing possibility that when we watch films, we may be relinquishing control and losing a part of ourselves. In short, the five chapters of this spinning psychodrama combine to mess with your head, leaving their haunting trace from the parallel plane that is cinema.

Black Circle was seen and reviewed at FrightFest Glasgow 2019.