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Review: Circle City Supernatural. The unexpectedly amazing underdog

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: J. P. Leck.
  • Producers: J. P. Leck.
  • Screenplay by: J. P. Leck.
  • Cinematographer: J. P. Leck.
  • Music by: J. P. Leck.

Synopsis: A radio broadcaster takes calls from different people to hear their spooky Halloween stories.

Shotgun Commentary: A cleverly simple execution for a brilliant script brimming with imagination.

The Circle City Supernatural radio studio is all decorated with a Halloween theme. 'On air' on top of a black table decorated with a web and toy small toys: a skeleton sitting with its back to the sign and a pumpkin with a witch hat on top of it.
Fig. 1. ‘On air’ sign on the studio where Circle City Supernatural is being broadcasted. Source: Circle City Supernatural (J. P. Leck, 2023).

Review

This anthology of horror stories bears great resemblance with old horror TV shows like The Twilight Zone or Thriller. The limited resources are utilised very efficiently and the lack of complex special effects is more than made up for with imagination and talent.

A middle age couple peaking through an open wooden door while holding ghost-detecting gadgets.
Fig. 2. A couple of ghost hunters searching for spirits in a haunted house.
Source: Circle City Supernatural (J. P. Leck, 2023).

One of the most outstanding elements of the film is its lack of blood and gore. Granted, not all movies in the genre necessarily rely on gore to provoke fear, but nowadays it is very surprising to find a film that literally only has one tiny trickle of blood on it. It proves that there are still original ideas out there and that horror can still work without any blood spatters.

Guile over VFX

In Circle City Supernatural, horror comes from the unknown, the possibility (sometimes certainty) that something deadly is going on. The stories follow predator-prey dynamics in which the victim is sometimes unclear and the hunter is always surrounded by mystery. The intentional gaps of knowledge in each story, along with their pacing, create an atmosphere of hair-raising tension that is rare in today’s horror genre. It speaks volumes of the artistry of all those involved.

A priest getting close to the figure of a very slim mourner who is under a black cape.
Fig. 3. A priest gets close to what he thinks it is a mourner.
Source: Circle City Supernatural (J. P. Leck, 2023).

Regardless of the common genre, each story is slightly different, so it doesn’t feel repetitive or tedious to watch the whole thing. Some stories are a little predictable (Doomslayer), but most of them are really creative (An Honest Review), and a few of them even kinda fun (Les is Moore). You never know what is coming next and it is very exciting to find out.

The only negative part about the script is the order of the narrations. While most of it is fine, there is at least one significant jump between two of them that didn’t feel right. Going from a very exciting story with an unclear open end to a very slow narrative with a very predictable development is quite a downer in the experience.

A kid dressed up in a skeleton costume spraying a plant with insecticide.
Fig. 4. A kid spraying a plant with poison. Source: Circle City Supernatural
(J. P. Leck, 2023).

Turning the focus to the technical side, the quality of the images is shockingly good for a low-budget movie like Circle City Supernatural. The definition and grading are spot on regardless of the light intensity and there is no noise in sight.

Slight mishaps

As for the audio, the soundtrack enhances the tension and horror aspect of each story without upstaging them. It is a very discreet addition that improves the viewing greatly. Sadly, there is a very obvious issue with the dialogues in some of the radio scenes, where the voices haven’t been properly recorded or edited and the distance of the sound feels wrong.

Continuing with the radio bits that connect all the narratives, they are the only part that I am not sold on. The acting and the enunciation are very fake and constantly remind you that you are watching a film. You can hear that most of the dialogue is being read instead of acted in the tone of the voice.

The technician from Circle City Supernatural listening to the callers' stories.
Fig. 5. Board operator listening to the broadcaster during the program Circle City Supernatural. Source: Circle City Supernatural (J. P. Leck, 2023).

As for the board operator at the other side of the recording area, her presence is completely unnecessary. She shakes her head and has one irrelevant conversation with the broadcaster. That is the extent of her role, and the shot where she shakes her head feels like the same one over and over. At first it feels like footage that someone forgot to erase, but I must admit that by the umpteenth time it is kind of funny to watch, especially since it is the most forced performance of the movie.

All in all, while it has some minor issues (very few considering the size of the team that has worked on it), it is the best Halloween film of 2023 so far, which is very representative of the incredible work put into it as well as the steep quality decrease of high-budgeted films in the genre this year.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • If a place feels sketchy, GET OUT OF THERE.
  • Scratching behind the walls can be all sorts of things. Pray it’s rats.
  • If touching something gets you in a spooky situation, maybe stop touching it?
Fig. 6. ‘Please do not disturb’ sign in Door 13 from the first story of Circle City Supernatural. Source: Circle City Supernatural (J. P. Leck, 2023).

What’s your take? Have you watched Circle City Supernatural too? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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