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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.


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This movie contains 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Laywer goes on a homophobic tirade, insinuating that she and her wife are grooming their young daughter. This display of bigotry disgusts more than enough people in the room for him to be eliminated next.
  • Ambiguous Disorder:
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    • 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, as if he didn't really understand what was going on.
  • Amoral Attorney: The Lawyer is a homophobic Smug Snake.
  • Angry Black Man: The main black person of the circle starts angrily complaining that the voting system has become racist. He calms down after the Racist Cop is killed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 it becomes bittersweet when Eric finds the survivors of other circles and discovers that they primarily consist of children and pregnant women.
  • 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.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The device 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.
  • Children Are Innocent: One of the would-be victims is a ten-year-old girl.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the all other the crimes or sins previously the used as excuses to vote for someone, almost nobody thought illegal immigration and homosexuality should be ones.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The black man in the grey suit, Shaun, the Illegal Mexican, the Silent Man, 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 pot belly even though his limbs and head look slender.
  • 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, until he observes that the participants will select the winner based on worthiness. From that point forward, he develops into a persuasive ringleader for the pragmatist faction, managing to overcome the rival voting bloc for a time.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 out he's wrong — it seems like the members of a lot of the other circles really did die to save a child or a pregnant.
  • 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 spots the man who votes for the Young Pregnant Woman from across the room, and he quickly picks up on the fact that the pragmatists had formed an alliance to kill those protecting the Little Girl and the Young Pregnant Woman. He even notices that the Silent Man never votes and uses that to screw over the pragmatists.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 in fact it turns out that a man and woman pretended to be husband and wife to buy 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini: Eric gets off scot-free for killing Pregnant Woman's baby and convincing the Little Girl to kill herself.
  • 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, Sean, and the Little Girl.
  • Kill the Poor: The Rich Guy suggests picking off people based on their societal contribution, 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?
  • Liar Revealed: 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.
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • From the moment Eric knows the rules of the circle, nobody else has a chance. He effortlessly plays every single player from beginning to 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 are described by phrases like Cancer Survivor, Pretty Girl, Cop, and so on.
  • 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 cast is whittled down to less than ten people, Eric manages to outmaneuver Bearded Man twice in a row. First, by observing that the Quiet Man never votes, he agrees to a deal to trade the Wife for the Little Girl, voting in an order he knows would default to a majority for the Wife. Then, he makes up a story about the Quiet Man being untouchable and suggests voting for him, so that Bearded Man will waste his vote on Quiet Man and get 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.
  • 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 Bitch: The Rich Guy is a male version. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 massives 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.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Two members of the group know each other because they are having an affair. In this case it appears they actually do love each other. When they tie in votes they decide to die together.
  • 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.

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