Film reviews and more since 2009

Circle of Eight (2009) review

Dir. Stephen Cragg

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ½★

Part of me and my girlfriend’s 30-movie Halloween marathon.

Circle of Eight is a movie so lacking in intelligence that you’d believe it was written by a Mountain Dew bottle. If only said bottle was uncapped and a strong wind had knocked it over, causing its contents to spill all over the screenplay, thus putting both it and the project out of its misery.

The only film released under the umbrella of “Mtn Dew Green Label Studio” — named after the late aughts marketing campaign by Pepsi, which featured graffiti, tattoo, graphic, stencil, and other artists create designs for limited edition Mountain Dew bottles — Circle of Eight has no pop nor fizz. It’s a woefully acted, underdeveloped slog, crippled by incoherent and exceedingly messy plot mechanics.

Wrap your brain around this one: we follow Jessica (Austin Highsmith) as she moved into a new apartment complex in Los Angeles known as “The Dante.” Her introduction to the new environment is the strange manager, Ed (John Bishop), who has an office in the elevator. He’s not the only oddity that lurks in this building, however. The other residents quickly introduce themselves to Jessica by oversharing aspects of their lives almost immediately. Everyone seems to know everyone else’s business, and saying the vibe is off is an understatement.

Among the group is a pregnant couple, a dude (DJ Qualls) who videotapes the tenants and insists he’s making a documentary, and Evan (Ryan Doom), a local artist. Jessica and Evan hit it off and become romantic almost immediately, but her grip on reality begins to disintegrate when she starts seeing the residents of The Dante die in horrific ways. By the time she alerts someone else, or even the police, the bodies are gone and there’s no evidence of their deaths occurring.

So, is The Dante haunted? Has Jessica found herself in a purgatorial plane of existence? These are questions you can ponder while watching Circle of Eight, but damned if you won’t be led astray by the film’s incoherent explanations. This is a film so maligned with problems, you’re unsure of where to place the blame. It could be the fault of Dave Brewman and Brian Horiuchi’s script, which fails to meaningfully characterize any of the individuals living in The Dante. It could be the fault of the editor, as the lack of pacing and wonky third act structure suggests a film lobotomized in post-production. It could also be that career-television director Stephen Cragg found himself overwhelmed with the project and couldn’t get a handle on an 83-minute film as opposed to a multi-episode series.

Either way, Circle of Eight is an unpleasant mess. It’s also a film without shame in the product placement department. In a scene noteworthy only because of how brazenly corporate it is, Evan shows Jessica how to make glow-in-the-dark paint by mixing Mountain Dew, peroxide, and baking soda. With the paint, he quickly illustrates a portrait of her frame on a large glass canvas. This gets Jessica’s hormones in a tizzy, and before-long, Evan wipes everything off of his workbench onto the floor (except, of course, the Mountain Dew bottle with the logo facing towards the camera) and the two begin to make PG-13 love.

By the way, does mixing Mountain Dew, peroxide, and baking soda really create a glow-stick-esque paint? Like Circle of Eight, it’s complete bullshit.

NOTE: Circle of Eight is available to rent on multiple platforms.

Starring: Austin Highsmith, John Bishop, Ryan Doom, DJ Qualls, Katie Lowes, Josh Kelly, Jesse Johnson, and Natashia Williams. Directed by: Stephen Cragg.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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