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Film / Circle

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Circle (2015) is an American Psychological Thriller film directed by Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione. It stars Carter Jenkins, Julie Benz, Lawrence Kao, Allegra Masters, and many others in an ensemble cast.

Fifty people wake up in a darkened room, all strangers from all walks of life, arranged in a circle around a sinister device that kills one of them every two minutes, or if any of them try to leave. Before long, they figure out that they can influence which person the device kills next... and the debate of whose life is worthy of saving begins in earnest.

Not to be confused with works titled The Circle.


Circle provides examples of:

  • Acceptable Targets: invoked Deconstructed. Choosing based on ethnic stereotypes or class divisions or any other divisive topic gets innocent (and not-so-innocent) people killed.
  • An Aesop: The greatest danger to humanity, is itself.
  • Alien Abduction: The prevailing theory about why everyone is there. It turns out to be correct, although the aliens themselves are never seen. The characters theorize that the aliens are either forcing them to kill each other off for social experiments, or just their sick amusement.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: The aliens are forcing the characters to kill each other either For Science! or For the Evulz.
  • All Gays Are Pedophiles: When a woman reveals herself to be part of a lesbian couple with a child when pressed on her background, the Lawyer goes on a homophobic tirade, insinuating that she and her wife are grooming their young daughter. His bigoted attitude disgusts more than enough people in the room for him to be eliminated next.
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  • All There in the Manual: The unnamed black man in the grey suit is credited as "The Pilot", which is probably his occupation.
  • Ambiguous Disorder:
    • One man is seen repeatedly, neurotically counting down the seconds it takes for the lightning bolt to cap the person with the most votes.
    • The Silent Man could be considered this, given that his behavior was unusual and his motives were only speculated upon by Eric. Not only did he never vote or talk, he didn't even seem stressed out at all by the life or death situation he was put in.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • Whether or not the shocked peopled are actually being killed or just removed from the game is a point of contention among fans. One of the first people zapped is seen bleeding from his orifices afterwards, but that could have just been from a cracked skull when he hit the ground.
    • The Rude Atheist claims that the Attractive Blonde Woman next to him is actually an ex-pornstar, which she denies. It's probably an intentional ploy by the Rude Atheist to be as much of a Jerkass as possible to get voted out, but we don't find out if he was outright lying. She might have been and just didn't want to be associated with her past career, or he was just making it up from whole cloth.
  • Amoral Attorney: The Lawyer is a homophobic Smug Snake. He treats the entire ordeal of selecting who has to die next as if he were arguing a case in court, but he fatally misjudges the audience he's speaking to.
  • Angry Black Man: The main black person of the circle starts angrily complaining that the voting system has become racist. He gets flak for pulling the "race card" in a situation that is absolutely unfair to begin with, even from the other black people in the circle. His suspicions are then immediately proven right when another prisoner goes on a racist rant, but he calms down after the Racist Cop is killed.
  • Anyone Can Die: A given, since the entire premise is that (almost) everyone will die. Characters will often be set up to be major players, only to be eliminated just as quickly. Even those who are deemed the most likely survivors (The Kid and the Pregnant Woman) are constantly in danger. In the end, only the most ruthless and amoral person survives.
  • Armies Are Evil: Subverted. Some of the people in the room suspect that the lone Soldier in their midst might have something to do with their kidnapping or the alien invasion, but he furiously rebukes them, pointing out that he's been risking his neck for years and that he just returned from deployment to see his wife and newborn. He proves himself to be one of the most moral people there in his effort to protect the Young Girl and Pregnant Lady.
  • Asshole Victim: Several of the characters get zapped while on a tear about their own prejudiced point of view or after revealing some major sin from their past. The most notable examples are Raoul the Domestic Abuser, the Racist Cop, the Cynical Atheist, the Lawyer, and the Rich Banker.
  • Bait the Dog: The Black Man actually seems kinda sympathetic when it turns out that his desperate claim that he was being targeted because of his race wasn't entirely unfounded... before he conspires to kill the Young Girl and the Pregnant Woman.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Eric has plenty of opportunities throughout the film for his plans to go awry. There are several rounds where he could have been selected randomly. He lucks out that the pragmatists' faction falls apart with the unexpected sacrifice of one of their members. His final plan would also have been ruined if the Little Girl didn't wait until the very last second for her heroic sacrifice.
    • When the (Fake) Husband and Wife announce themselves to the room, the Husband begs the others to kill him instead of his wife if it came down to it. While a risky move, he did it knowing full well that most other people would balk at killing someone's loved one right in front of them.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Several characters choose to kill themselves voluntarily by jumping off the platform rather than wait to be killed by the circle.
  • Bigot with a Badge: One of the black people trapped in the circle starts complaining that the voting order has become racist. Although this initially draws the ire of his fellow captives, he's proven right when the Cop goes on a bigoted tirade against black people as a whole and "socialist bullshit" in particular. Interestingly, the Cop had earlier gotten a Latino Tattooed Crook killed because he allegedly beat his girlfriend. The criminal himself confirmed this, but it raises doubts as to how sincere the Cop's motives were.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Eric tricks the Little Girl into killing herself for the baby while he votes for the Pregnant Woman at the last second. Then he and the unborn fetus are the only survivors left. Eric votes for the baby and is returned to Earth. The ending at first seems like a downer ending because the master manipulator survives, but we gain much more faith in mankind when Eric finds the survivors of other circles and we see that almost half of them are children and pregnant women, meaning that in many other ships, everyone else willingly died in order to do the right thing and save those more vulnerable than themselves.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Eric is seemingly an intelligent, kindhearted young man. He is the first one to protect the Young Pregnant Woman and the Little Girl, he's the one who discovers the plan by the pragmatists who want to kill the Young Pregnant Woman and the Little Girl, and he rallies everyone into killing them off. At the final vote, however, he manipulates the Little Girl into killing herself and uses his knowledge of the timing of the vote to take out the Pregnant Woman in the same moment, winning his survival.
  • Black Dude Dies First:
    • Discussed by the African-American man, who sarcastically suggests that everyone kill off all the black people first. A lot of the other characters call him out on trying to score sympathy points by pulling the race card, with even most of the other black people in the room disagreeing with him. However, this argument is quickly shut down when the Cop suddenly displays genuinely racist views.
    • This is also played straight with the first onscreen casualties being a Hispanic woman and an African-American man.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The device (probably) kills people with some kind of electrical shock without leaving a mark on them, and the body is dragged off through some kind of magnetism involving the implant in their hands.
  • Bottle Episode: Aside from a short scene at the end, the entire film is about a group of people standing still in a dark room.
  • Break the Haughty: The Rude Atheist and the Rich Banker both have minor breakdowns with the knowledge that they would be the next to die.
  • Call-Back: Early on, someone theorizes that the Pregnant Woman would count as two people. At the end, when she dies, her fetus ties with Eric.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: Trying to rig the game never works out as intended. Refuse to vote, the game picks a victim at random. Try to force a tie? It's actually the fastest way to eliminate everyone, especially if nobody changes their vote.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Eric is very observant, which becomes obvious as he was the one to notice that someone is changing his vote to the pregnant lady and also understanding the motive behind it. He was also the one who remembered most about the abduction. This helps him make it right to the end.
  • The Chessmaster: Eric notices the one guy trying to vote for the pregnant lady and eliminates him. Then, by explaning that the pregnant lady and the kid will probably last until the end, he actually paints a target on their back for the other ones who want to survive at all costs. He signals to the pregnant lady to vote for the bearded man, taking the last of the pragmatists out. Finally, he manipulates Katie into sacrificing herself and then killing the pregnant lady by a last moment twist of the wrist. During the whole thing, he stays away from any ideological discussions or emotional outbursts, making sure nobody feels any strong hostility towards him.
  • Children Are Innocent: Two of the would-be victims are a ten-year-old girl and a pregnant woman. They both survive to the end...where they are killed by Eric, who exploited this trope by manipulating the situation until he and they were the only three left.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The Fake Husband and the Fake Wife are manipulated and blackmailed by both the protectors and the pragmatists to vote off certain members. When both groups realize they are lying about being married, they become targets instead of swing voters.
  • Closed Circle: A literal example here, as the people are trapped in a circle that will kill them if they try to leave. Surrounding them is nothing but a featureless black void that the bodies of the dead periodically disappear into.
  • Contrived Coincidence: How Bearded Man realizes that Fake Husband and Wife were lying to them all along. Even if they really were a married couple, what are the odds they just happened to land right next to each other? The only people who knew each other at all were randomly placed in the room.
  • The Cynic: The Rude Atheist and the Asian Kid believe that all of them are going to die.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • The Asian Kid, and the Lawyer.
    • One-Armed Man has some nice zingers as well in his objections to some of the reasoning used by others.
      [when Rich Man starts questioning the Young Girl] Oh, no. She got a B on her last test. Let's kill her.
      [when Lawyer demands to know the Illegal Mexican's status] What, now you need a fucking green card to be fucking abducted?
  • Death by Racism: Since the characters are forced to kill each other off by popular vote, every time one of the abductees espouses openly bigoted views, they're almost inevitably chosen.
  • Dead Star Walking: Both College Guy and Wife are portrayed by well-known TV actors. Neither of them survive, and the former is killed before the halfway mark.
  • Death of a Child: Discussed at length due to the presence of a ten-year-old girl and a pregnant woman, and the knowledge that at least one will be sentenced to death. In the end, neither survive, and the woman's fetus is specifically killed by the last survivor.
  • Decoy Protagonist:
    • The first woman to wake up is a young woman who has all the makings of being the Final Girl. She's quickly cast aside once the other survivors start waking up and is reduced to being another background survivor. She's later offed unceremoniously during the last half-hour of the movie.
    • Man 1 is the first character to figure out how the circle works, and he clearly seems like a level-headed character capable of keeping everyone—nope. He's the third victim.
    • College Guy is the first one to figure out how to buy everyone time and tries to figure out how and why everything's happening. And while his methods seemed extreme, he seemed to know what he was doing. So naturally, he dies early on, too.
  • Developers' Foresight: In-universe, the creators of the elimination game planned for every contingency. Try to leave, you die. No one votes, a random person is killed. Tied votes kill all involved if no one changes their vote.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: We only get to know some of the characters right before they are killed. The most notable example is Beth, who tells her backstory to everyone before dying.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: A lot of people are killed simply due to being a category the others dislike or pissing them off somehow.
  • Distressed Damsel: On more than one occasion, the Little Girl and the Pregnant Woman end up in ties where their lives are on the line and need to be saved by the protectors.
  • Domestic Abuse: The Tattooed Man beat up his girlfriend, as revealed by the Cop. This gets him killed.
  • Down L.A. Drain: The final scene is set here, before moving out to a nearby street.
  • Dwindling Party: Every two minutes, someone dies. They actually attempt several different ways to cheat the game, such as not voting or forcing a tie, both of which fail. For the former, the device selects a random victim. For the latter, everyone put into a tie will be killed if the votes don't shift.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The lawyer claims to have a family, and the Abuser claims that a teardrop tattoo he has is for his teenaged cousin, who was killed by the police.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even the unpleasant lawyer, who just thought that talking about racism was bullshit, looks uncomfortable when the cop goes on a racist rant.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Despite his racist behavior that gets him sacrificed, the Cop also is the one that informs people of the Abuser's wife-beating, showing sincere disgust for it.
    • Regardless of all the other crimes or sins they previously used as excuses to vote for someone, almost nobody thought illegal immigration and homosexuality should be among them.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The black man in the grey suit, Shaun, the Illegal Mexican, the Silent Man, The Minister and the Little Girl all willingly go to their deaths for the sake of others.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Many characters end up joining the group of pragmatists even if they won't vote to kill the Little Girl and the Young Pregnant Woman. They do this because they either want to survive or because they want to see their family again. The most notable examples of relatively nice characters joining this group are: the Husband, the Wife, the Pretty Girl, and the Lesbian.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Downplayed. The first thing the Illegal Mexican does is pull out a family photo, but he isn't killed even though the others were debating picking him next. When he does go, it's to save the Little Girl.
  • Fat Bastard:
    • The Amoral Attorney has a noticeable potbelly even though his limbs and head look slender.
    • The Cop, who turns out to be racist, even more so.
  • Forgettable Character: When the atheist ties with a woman, who tries to save herself by pointing out she didn't say anything wrong, he yells: "Who the f is this?!" Justified in that the audience probably didn't notice her either.
  • Freudian Excuse: The Tattooed Man, who is revealed to be a Domestic Abuser, says that his cousin was shot by police when he was 15.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: All the characters are seemingly randomly selected from society and forced into a Machiavellian game of life and death.
    • The Bearded Man is silent for the first act of the film. But when the group begins to divide, he quickly emerges as the leader of the pragmatists, persuading others to vote along with him and coordinating who should die next.
    • Eric seems to be a normal person who argues for making purely moral choices in the game and becomes the rival ringleader to the pragmatists. In the end, however, it's revealed that he's either changed his mind or been hiding his true intentions to come out on top with a cruel masterstroke.
  • Good Shepherd: The Minister, who tries to comfort some of the others, and is part of the group dedicated to saving Katie or the Pregnant woman.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Occasionally, we won't even see when the orb zaps someone to death—which makes it all the more shocking when someone unexpected dies.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: Explored throughout the film. Nobody is totally good, and very few are irredeemable scumbags.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: The Racist Cop and the Rude Atheist. Inevitably, their rude tirades only serve to get them killed.
  • Hate Sink: The Rich Man, whose views, Dirty Coward rationale and It's All About Me attitude is absolutely vile.
  • Heroic Suicide: A few characters volunteer to be killed to buy the others more time.
    • Illegal Mexican gives his life to spare the Little Girl when they tie.
    • The black guy in the grey suit sacrifices himself so Shaun doesn't have to, and Shaun himself does the same so he won't have to vote anymore.
    • The Little Girl sacrifices herself to spare the Pregnant Woman.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Several times, one character argues heatedly for why another particular character deserves to die next — only to find that everyone else is so disgusted by their hateful rant that they are the next one to die instead.
  • Hollywood Atheist: The Atheist is rude, cynical and mocks other people for believing in God.
  • Hope Spot: When it's just Eric, the Little Girl, and the Pregnant Woman left the audience is relieved that one of the two innocents is going to survive. However, Eric was faking his kindness the whole time and killed both of them.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Eric sarcastically congratulates the aliens for proving this. Turns more ambiguous at the end, as a lot of the survivors are children and pregnant women, suggesting that, in at least some circles, the protectors won.
  • Hyper-Awareness: One thing that helps Eric get so far in the circle is that he intelligently observes all the actions and interactions of the different players. He notices, from across the room, that someone is voting for the Pregnant Woman, and immediately deduces that some people will try to eliminate her and the Little Girl to increase their odds of survival.
  • Hypocrite: The Rich Guy advocated allowing those with children to live longer than those who didn't. Yet he was one of the main people to also push for killing the Young Pregnant Woman and the Little Girl.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Played with. People can't use their votes to eliminate themselves. However, stepping off your platform causes you to automatically be eliminated, which resets the timer, and acts as a way around this.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Comes down to this in many cases. The Husband says this word-for-word when he switches sides to prevent his wife from being killed next. Only, it's not his wife, they were both just pretending to be married for sympathy and increase their chances of survival, and he had to switch his allegiance simply to keep up the pretense.
  • Idiot Ball: Anyone who goes on a bigoted rant about something, like ageism, racism, misogyny, homophobia etc.
    • the the cop stands out. He turned the others against the Tattoed man by revealing his past, but doesn't seem to realize that the others will turn againsthim when he goes on a racist rant
    • The fake wife putting her trust in the bearded man. By that point, the bearded man has made it clear he doesn't care about killing the kid and the pregnant lady to save himself. Why would he be loyal to her? He was also the one to expose her being a liar in the first place
  • I Have a Family: The Rich Guy attempts to earn sympathy from the other characters by informing the group he has seven children. Many of the other characters accuse him of lying to buy himself time and mockingly claim to have even more children. We don't find out whether the Rich Guy was telling the truth, but the eagerness with which he attempts to kill the Little Girl suggests that he was lying. It also turns out that another man and woman pretended to be husband and wife to buy some sympathy. But it does work to a certain extent—up until the two sides are established, people with children managed to last a bit longer than those who said they didn't have any.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: There's one pregnant woman among the group of fifty captives. It doesn't take long for different characters to figure out that she (and a little girl) would have the strongest chances of surviving the elimination, as most people would balk at murdering either of them. However, this makes them the prime targets of a group seeking to "level the playing field" to increase their own chances of getting out alive.
  • Jerkass: While a majority of the cast consists of prejudiced characters or people with flaws, Atheist, the Lawyer, and the Rich Guy stand out the most because of their obnoxious and arrogant behavior.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Asian Kid is more in line with the pragmatic group, but he's usually the first to call out other people's biases. He mocks the Rich Guy's idea of saving people based on class, and defends the Lesbian against the Lawyer.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Some characters, such as College Guy and Bearded Man, are capable of committing hard, yet logical choices that get some characters killed in order to prolong the other characters' chances of survival.
    • The Cynical Atheist is one of the rudest characters on display, but when Black Man tries to appeal to Positive Discrimination to make things "fair", Atheist immediately points out what in the blue fuck is fair about a bunch of innocent people slowly being murdered anyway.
  • Karma Houdini: Eric gets off scot-free for killing Pregnant Woman's baby and convincing the Little Girl to kill herself. Additionally, the aliens who conducted this experiment presumably get away with it.
  • Kick the Dog: While there are plenty of moments of this as people try to get others voted off instead of them, a more petty and senseless moment is the Lawyer praising Shaun's sacrifice and promising to name his next kid after him, but then deliberately mispronouncing his name as he steps off the pedestal. He seems to find it amusing.
  • Kill 'Em All: The only survivor by the end of the film is Eric, and a small group of survivors from other circles who are only revealed in the very last scene.
  • Kill the Cutie: Most notably the Minister, Shaun, the Little Girl, and the Spanish Translator.
  • Kill the Poor: The Rich Guy suggests picking off people based on their "societal contribution" and goes on a rant against people on welfare, which just ends up painting a target on his own back. He survives several ties, but is finally eliminated when he tries to get the Little Girl killed.
  • Language Barrier: When attention is drawn to Illegal Mexican, there's a debate about whether he should be eliminated next since he doesn't speak any English and they're already short on time. Spanish Translator tries to act as an intermediary until she's killed off to shift votes in favor of the pragmatists.
  • Left Hanging: The ending reveals that it really was an alien abduction and there are even more circles than that one. However, why the aliens did it remains unknown. Eric speculates that they are testing the humanity, but testing what and for what purpose?
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • Eric plays his "nice guy" role to the hilt from the very beginning. Through observation, persuasion and a generous helping of luck, he plays everyone to the very end.
    • The Rich Guy and especially the Bearded Man also prove formidable at persuading people to do what they want. However, the former ends up becoming unhinged and voted to his death as a result, while the latter is Out-Gambitted by Eric.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: The Rich Guy, per his own description, was actually a normal banker who just loaned money to businesses and entrepeneurs, not some crook. However, when he is forced to participate in the elimination, he turns into a Dirty Coward and for a while leads the effort to kill the Little Girl and Pregnant Lady.
  • Mutual Kill: When there are only 11 survivors left, the next vote results in a colossal 4-way tie between Soldier, Cancer Survivor Lady, Lesbian, and Pretty Girl, that takes out all of them.
  • Nice Guy: Soldier, Cancer Survivor Lady, One-Armed Man, and Spanish Translator. These four take a strong stance against killing the Little Girl and the Young Pregnant Woman and never waver.
    • The people who volunteered about halfway through are also nice people.
    • Katie sacrifices herself to save the pregnant lady. The pregnant lady also refuses to vote for Katie, a little bit before that, even when she is pressured to do so to save herself
  • Nominal Importance: Averted in that several characters are named but still die just as easily as everyone else. Then subverted when Eric becomes the only survivor.
  • No Name Given: Only a handful of the characters have names, and in the credits the others are described by phrases like Cancer Survivor, Pretty Girl, Cop, and so on.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Bearded Man realizes that he has been Out-Gambitted by Eric, it dawns on him right before he's zapped, only being able to say "Wait..."
    • Also, Katie notices that Eric is casting a vote at the very last moment, but she's already sacrificed herself at that point
  • Ontological Mystery: How did they get there? Why are they there? Turns out it's aliens, albeit for reasons that are never revealed.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Several characters attempt to be this by manipulating everyone through suggestions in order to survive, but none play it quite as well as Eric does.
  • Out-Gambitted:
    • When the room decides to force a universal tie in an attempt to cheat the game, one person secretly switches his vote to kill Pregnant Lady. Another astute person notices this, and switches his vote to that guy so he'll be trapped in a tie with Pregnant Lady. Of course, the room chooses to save her over him.
    • When the cast is whittled down to less than ten people, Eric manages to outmaneuver Bearded Man twice in a row. First, he observes that the Silent Man never votes. Then he agrees to a deal to kill the Wife and the Little Girl simultaneously via tied vote, but ensures that the Silent Man was intended to be the final vote for the Little Girl. This results in the Wife getting a majority vote by default, and reducing the pragmatist bloc to only the Bearded Man. Then, he makes up a story about the Silent Man being untouchable and suggests voting for him, so that Bearded Man will waste his vote on Silent Man instead of trying to persuade either the Little Girl or Pregnant Woman and so gets eliminated himself.
  • Protectorate: The Little Girl and the Young Pregnant Woman are presumed to be the most likely survivors, since they're considered the most innocent. However, as soon as attention is drawn to them, this makes them the focus point between a group that want to protect them and another group that wants to eliminate them first to even the odds for the rest of them.
  • Precision F-Strike: The Old White Lady gets only one line right before College Guy is eliminated after he suggests killing everyone over not just 70, but 50 or perhaps even 40 years of age: "Fuck you!"
  • The Quiet One: There is one man who makes it to the final four who never voted and hadn't said a word the whole time. It almost seems like he was going to be revealed to be one of the aliens, but nope, he's just human as he gets eliminated himself.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The premise is about a Deadly Game which is set up in a dark room with a large glowing red circle in the middle.
  • Red Herring: The characters delve into their pasts at different points, hoping that there might be some clue to explain what is happening or how to escape from the game, but none of it really means anything. They were just picked at random during the Alien Invasion.
  • Relative Button: The Lawyer unknowingly drew the ire of the middle-aged Black Man to vote for him with his homophobic rant, as the latter admits that his son is actually gay.
    Black Man: My son's gay. And there's not a damn thing wrong with him.
  • Rewatch Bonus: In the beginning, when everyone starts talking at once, you can briefly see the Husband and Wife talking to each other. If you've seen the film already, you can realize that this is the moment that they establish their plan to masquerade as a married couple.
  • Rich Jerk: The Rich Guy is this. He defends himself by saying that he works hard for his money, but he displays a somewhat callous and sharp personality throughout.
  • Riddle for the Ages: We get no explanation for why the aliens are doing this. Researching human behavior and/or sadistic gratification are offered as possibilities by the captives.
  • Rule of Drama: It's established that if votes are tied, a run-off results, while if no one votes, the machine selects a person randomly. Therefore, when it's down to just Eric and the Pregnant Woman's unborn child, one of them should have simply been picked right away without a tie resulting since neither of them voted, but this would have removed the dramatic impact of The Reveal. This may be a special rule to prevent the final two people abstaining from voting and leaving it entirely to chance. It's 50-50 by that point.
  • Sadist: The domestic abuser is briefly seen chuckling after the death of a woman in the circle. This is what causes the Racist Cop to notice and recognize him.
  • Sadistic Choice: The whole movie is full of those, but the main one is about either let the child or the pregnant woman be killed.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: A lot of the characters reveal themselves to be very despicable people to the point where the others cannot stand them anymore and get themselves voted out.
    • The Tattooed Man, Raul Jimenez. He adamantly stands by his actions on beating his girlfriend when the Cop calls him out on it. This is enough to get everyone to vote for him to die.
    Raul Jimenez: What are you gonna do? Shoot me?
    Cop: I don't think I have to. (Cue Raul's death)
    • Shortly afterward, the Cop himself brings his own demise upon himself, when he reveals himself to be an unapologetic racist. Had he just kept his mouth shut for a little longer, the others probably would've voted for the Black Man he spouted racist insults towards instead.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: While the volunteers all count as such, since they're only delaying the inevitable, of particular note is the Little Girl. She offers to give her life to save the Pregnant Woman, only for Eric to use the distraction to take out the Pregnant Woman at the same moment.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: The unnamed black guy in the grey suit. He even dies elegantly.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Subverted. In the end, with only Eric left, the countdown restarts, causing him to believe that the entire contest was pointless and everyone was going to die anyway. However, the Pregnant Woman's fetus has just happened to fall into one of the participant spaces, causing the Circle to count it as a new participant. All he has to do is vote against it, and he wins. We see in the final scene that other winners have also survived.
  • Slut-Shaming:
    • When the Rude Atheist managed to turn half of the circle onto him, he tries to make the Beautiful Blonde Woman next to him a target by insinuating she's a porn star and ends up making her cry. This earned him the ire of everyone in the circle, and he's the next to die.
    • The Lesbian does a little of this when it's suggested the Pregnant Woman should be spared.
      Lesbian: "So she's never heard of birth control she gets to live?"
  • Smug Snake: The Lawyer. He deals with the situation by showing complete confidence about the prospects of his own survival, always ready with a sarcastic or witty comeback, but his luck runs out when he draws the ire of most other people by bullying a gay woman.
  • The Sociopath: Eric. He seems like a nice person, but he's actually a ruthless Manipulative Bastard who plays everyone against each other and remorselessly kills a little girl and a pregnant woman (and her child). He is the quickest to assess the situation from a cold and logical perspective and he doesn't lose his cool like a normal person in such a stressful situation. Other characters may or may not be sociopaths also, but Eric is a classic and archetypal example of one.
  • Sole Survivor: The premise of the Circle runs on the idea that only one person in the circle can survive. Emphasis on can: if two people are left, they can only vote for each other. Thus, for anyone to survive at all one of the two will have to sacrifice themselves, which is statistically unlikely anyway since making it to the final few requires a fair bit of self-preservation and ruthlessness. In the end, Eric manages to be the only survivor after manipulating everyone else to either vote each other out or kill themselves.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Cube. An Ontological Mystery of people from different walks of life who were abducted by mysterious forces and placed into a confined Death Trap where they start dying one by one unless they somehow find a way out. Also, the circle itself can be seen as a different form of Sinister Geometry.
  • Suicide Pact:
    • Since there's no way of stopping the elimination process, it's suggested that people volunteer to sacrifice themselves. At least one person suggests that they all do it simultaneously, but since most of them do want to survive, this never transpires.
    • The black man and woman who had an affair decide to step off the platform at the same time.
  • Take Me Instead: The Husband asks the others to take him first so Wife can live when it comes down to it. Which is just a ploy by two unrelated people to survive longer. They're not even married.
  • That Came Out Wrong: After the Lawyer is swiftly killed because he argued that they should kill the Lesbian before she molests her own daughter.
    Husband: What if he had a point?
    One-Armed Man: Just drop it already!
    Husband: No, not about the gay stuff.
  • There Can Be Only One: The people in the room can't choose themselves, only other people, meaning there will be a single survivor after the elimination process has run its course. However, as someone points out later, when it comes down to the final two, it will inevitably be a Mutual Kill unless one person sacrifices themselves by not voting.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Shaun, which why he volunteers to kill himself. Also the Silent Man, who never votes for unexplained reasons.
  • The Reveal: A man and a woman lie about being husband and wife in order to get sympathy from the other members of the circle. They are eventually exposed by the Bearded Guy and the Lesbian. The man is then killed and the woman is blackmailed into joining the pragmatic side.
    • And the ending, in which Eric reveals himself to the audience as a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who'd been gaming the system for around half the film.
  • Together in Death: The two having an affair choose to die together when they tie.
  • Too Dumb to Live: It's discovered pretty early on that the elimination is based on popular vote, but rather than keeping their mouth shut or outright lying for sympathy (as several smarter characters attempt), some of the people in the room behave like massive jerkasses, which almost always gets them killed.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Numerous characters reveal some ugly traits under stress and desperation, which usually causes the others to turn against them immediately.
  • Uncertain Doom: Just about everyone shocked, given how fast their bodies are taken away without being examined and the ambigious nature of the ray, although the emphasis is a lot more on the "doom" than the "uncertain".
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Rich Banker starts off reasonably composed, making decent arguments for sacrificing others without appearing too much like a jerkass, but as the game continues he becomes more unhinged and resorts to increasingly desperate means to survive, finally ending as a ranting and raving Hate Sink campaigning to murder a child to save his own skin.
  • Villains Blend in Better: Eric avoids antagonizing people or calling atention to himself by not making sarcastic comments, rants or arguments about morals. He sometimes intervenes by steering people into targetting others, but otherwise doesn't stand out. His soft voice, shirt that blends into the background and his position in the back row also help with this.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • The College Guy suggests killing off the oldest people in the room first to buy themselves more time and come up with some sort of plan to escape. Most of the room goes along with him when it's people in their eighties and seventies who are picked off, but when College Guy keeps lowering the age by targeting Cancer Survivor Lady (who insists that she's 52 but looks older), he pisses off enough people to be outvoted next.
    • The Bearded Man leads a campaign to kill off the Child and Pregnant Woman, because to do otherwise would be for everyone else to simply accept death.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye:
    • Some characters are killed off after only having a few (or no) lines.
    • Inverted as well. Some characters, most notably Beth, are killed immediately after giving us a huge infodump. Since a lot of people picked her after she revealed that she had no children, the other people in the room realize it's smarter to keep your mouth shut.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: The Silent Man survives for an impressive length of time simply by saying and doing nothing. Eric is the only one to even notice this, using it to outwit another player. The Silent Man is then killed next round.
  • Would Harm a Senior: As soon as people realize that the order of killing is based on voting, College Guy suggests killing off the oldest people first in order to buy themselves more time because it's "more fair", which the room begrudgingly agrees to. However, when they run out of truly elderly people, the room turns against him because it's clear he's just going to keep targeting people based on age.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Eric. When it is down to him, the Little Girl, and the Pregnant Woman, he tricks the Little Girl into killing herself to protect the Pregnant Woman and votes to kill the Pregnant Woman at the last second before either realize what's happening. When he ties with the latter's (still-living) fetus, he votes to kill the fetus as well.
    • Near the end of the film the players are split into two groups. The protectors: a group of individuals who want to protect the Little Girl and the Young Pregnant Woman. The pragmatists: a group of individuals who want to kill the Little Girl and the Young Pregnant Woman in order to give everyone in the circle a better chance at survival.
  • You Bastard!: Eric's rant at the aliens, including a defence of his actions, when he thinks he's going to be killed regardless could just as well be directed at the audience, who have enjoyed 90 minutes of characters killing each other via mass vote.
    Eric: Of course. All that... all that for nothing? All that. What's the matter, huh? What? I'm not good enough for you? What? I'm not the one that you wanted? I'm exactly the same as everybody else in here! They all got to make their own choices! They chose to kill each other. That's what you wanted to see, right, huh? Well, there you go, congratulations. We're assholes. F—- you!
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • Rich Guy, Bearded Man, and Black Guy form an alliance to eliminate either the Little Girl or the Pregnant Woman to increase their own chances of survival, but when it comes down to a tie between the Little Girl and Rich Guy, both of his allies immediately turn on him, offering to kill them both.
    • The Wife is convinced to join the pragmatic camp by the Bearded Man, but he later trades her life with Eric for the Little Girl.
  • You Wake Up in a Room: Fifty people wake up in a pitch black room featuring a only a chess-like floor circled around a device in the center. It turns out that not only will someone die every two minutes, but the people in the room are voting who dies next by manipulating a mechanism on the floor.