Ghostly supernatural horror and Scandinavia’s biggest exploitation star are the key ingredients in Black Circle, a Swedish-Mexican film which goes retro in more than one way. It hits Swedish cinemas today.
Black Circle (original title: Svart cirkel) is a story about two sisters and a mysterious vinyl record from the 1970s. When Celeste’s sister Isa recommends she listen to the B-side of the vinyl album that allegedly changes lives, Celeste is sceptical to say the least. Deciding to go along with Isa’s request, she plays the Magnetic Hypnosis record just as slumber hits, only to realise she has released a ghostly doppelganger desperate to replace its human counterpart.
The film is written and directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, a Spanish director, writer and producer who now mainly works in Mexico and Argentina (both his parents are Argentinian). He was the first Argentinian-based director who sold a movie to Netflix, Scherzo Diabolico (2016). Since 1998 he has directed 21 short films and features, including a segment of The ABCs of Death (2012), the rape-revenge film No moriré sola (2008) and the snuff themed Masacre esta noche (2009). His English language debut was the werewolf horror Late Phases (2014), and Black Circle (2018 – wide release in 2019) is his first Scandinavian co-production. To Twitchfilm he described his latest film before its shooting: -An independent, high concept horror film. Black Circle is a drama with supernatural elements. It’s a film driven by a psychological conflict that becomes visible, tangible and extremely dangerous. Being a fan of the horror genre, I always try to use it as a springboard for themes that I’m interested in portraying. In this case my focus is on the ideals of perfection and success and the loss of our essence trying to achieve those goals. It’s also about the struggle with the worst, most horrifying part of our nature once it surfaces.
So far so good, although this would have been just another Scandi ghoster (not that there is anything wrong with that) had it not been for the film’s star. It is no doubt a small sensation that Christina Lindberg (68) is back on the screen again in Black Circle. In the 1970s, the model-turned-actress was one of the most famous Swedes, both in her own country and internationally. In the late 60s she started modeling in men’s magazines, including Penthouse, Playboy, Lui and Mayfair, and the step to erotic and violent films was not huge. Her debut in 1970 was in Dog Days (also known as What Are You Doing After the Orgy? in the UK and Rötmånad in Sweden), a Swedish dark comedy about a barber whose wife returns after five years of absence and starts a brothel with the couple’s 17 year old daughter (Lindberg) as the main attration. The film contained both nudity and violence, as well as comedy, and achieved cult film status in Sweden. A series of films followed for Lindberg, among them Maid in Sweden (1971) and Anita: Swedish Nymphet (1973), but the actress/model’s most iconic role was to be Thriller – A Cruel Picture (aka. Hooker’s Revenge, They call her one-eye) in 1973. The film went on to become a massive worldwide cult film, and served as the main inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. After quitting acting entirely in the early 80s, effectively a few years before, Lindberg went into journalism and started working for the aviation magazine her then husband Bo Sehlberg owned. When he died in 2004, Lindberg took over ownership and the position as editor-in-chief of the magazine. She sold the company a few years ago, and now spends her time as an animal rights activist, among other things. In 2011 she wrote the foreword to Daniel Ekeroth’s book Swedish Sensationfilms; a fitting choice of contributor.
Production and festival appearance.
With that background, having been the most famous and iconic exploitation actor in Scandinavia, it’s indeed noteworthy when Lindberg returns to suspense in Black Circle, a supernatural thriller with a part that was especially written for her by writer-director Bogliano. She has been a friend of producer Rickard Gramfors since they first worked together on DVD extras in 2005, and having since travelled to nearly 20 conventions and film festivals around the world. Gramfors is into “retro movies” and Bogliano has long been a fan of both Ingmar Bergman, Christina and Thriller, so casting Lindberg seemed to be a natural extension of that; Bergman is often credited with creating the rape-revenge genre to which Thriller belongs. Black Circle is Lindberg’s first proper film role since 1980 and her first major role since the mid 70s, not counting an uncredited role in 1982. Even so, this summer Christina won three lifetime achievement awards; at the Grossman Fantastic Film & Wine Festival in Slovenia, the Silver Bat at Fantafestival in Rome in June and the Fantaspoa lifetime award in Brazil (which also Ruggero Deodato and Roger Corman was awarded during the same festival). When the film was announced in 2016, Bogliano said: -This is finally my opportunity to work with Christina Lindberg who has been one of my favorite actresses for many years. She has an incredible presence and we’re getting an amazing cast and unique locations, that will make this movie something very different from anything you’ve seen from Swedish genre films.
Christina Lindberg’s role in Black Circle is that of the creator of the mysterious record, and indeed, vinyl records were the initial inspiration for the film, according to Bogliano. He collects vinyl records and one day he found a strange “hypnotic” Mexican record, one of many that were released from the 1950s to the 80s, often private pressings made on demand and without cover or labels. The idea was that if you played the records when you were sleeping, you would wake up a better person. -It’s a very modern idea, that you want to find shortcuts to happiness, Bogliano said at a film festival in 2018.
Black Circle was shot in Sweden in 2016 over 12 days and it actually premiered as a 10-minute short film in 2017, called Öppna inte ögonen / Don’t open your eyes, using scenes from the feature production. The short was shown at Monsters of Film in Stockholm that year and in other festivals, and in 2018 the feature version was completed and started its festival tour.
Practically, the idea for the film harks back to 2011 when US video label Synapse Films wanted to start releasing movies by Bogliano. Their Swedish partner, Klubb Super 8 whose driving force is Black Circle‘s producer Rickard Gramfors, got in touch with Bogliano, who had written a horror script with Lindberg in mind. The Night of Kuda never found its financing, but in 2016 Bogliano and Gramfors met and discussed another movie, about two sisters and a hypnotic vinyl record. Gramfors’ initial reaction was “that’s a movie I have never seen before” and from then on Black Circle was on track. The script was written over a couple of months and after revisions to adjust for details such as Swedish summer nights not being dark at all, the film was shot in June 2016, mainly in the Stockholm region. Even though it’s a low budget production, Bogliano insisted that everyone got paid union wages, that footage was filmed within “office hours” and most importantly; three meals per day should be served to the 25 cast and crew members when filming.
Black Circle (not to be confused with the 1990 Swedish TV thriller The black circle) is also notable for starring Inger Nilsson, an actress everyone in the Nordic region know as Pippi from a number of films and TV-series in the 1960s and 70s. As a child actor, she embodied the already popular figure created by Swedish super author Astrid Lindgren. Nilsson has only acted in a handful of movies and TV series since her childhood fame, and appears in a minor role as “the secretary” in Black Circle. Another recogniseable name is Felice Jankell (of the Jankell family; her sister Happy is an established actress, their mother is a TV celebrity and daddy Thorsten Flinck is a famous dancer), who plays one of the sisters. She has previously been seen in genre drama such as Alena (2015) and Jakten på tidskristallen (2017). Twins Hanna and Erica Midfjäll, who both plays the other sister, are relatively unknown, the same is Hanna Asp, appearances in The Circle (2015) and Sameblod (2016) notwithstanding. Iwa Boman has appeared in several well known productions, including the Arne Dahl TV series (2015), Jordskott (2015), and Superherochristmas (2009). Teen singer Johan Palm also stars in the film.
International reviews so far say, among others things, this:
- J.B. Spins: “Black Circle is a triumph of genre art direction, cinematography, and mise-en-scene that brilliantly recreates the look and tone of 1970s Euro-horror movies. Every detail is perfectly rendered. Yet, the narrative is still wholly original and completely engrossing. Frankly, this is the best horror or horror-ish film to play with doppelganger themes since maybe the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, far-eclipsing Jordan Peele’s Us (which was admittedly pretty good).”
- BirthMoviesDeath: “So long as the ideas are interesting and characters well-realized, we can go along with just about anything. This is the kind of film offered by Black Circle, a Swedish suspense thriller that delves into an entire universe of weirdness, all without breaking the bank […] Through basically nothing but dialog, Black Circle starts throwing all kinds of stuff at us with little regard for how it all might sound to a casual moviegoer […] It is an interesting film in terms of form as well, utilizing subtle tactics to make audiences uneasy. The sound design plays tricks on you. Characters appear to stutter in the frame but as soon as you notice it they’ve already stopped. The camera never stops moving, making it seem as if the cinematography itself is nervous.”
- SciFiNow: “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.”
- Geek Chocolate: “A mixup of seventies new ageism and deeper folklore which crafts its magic largely through traditional techniques, lighting and optical effects such as superimposition, Black Circle is an offbeat cover version of Star Trek‘s The Enemy Within performed by the Lords of Salem working with analogue equipment, an experiment unlikely to ride high in the charts but which those in the know will enthusiastically discuss and dissect.”
- The Grump of Horror: “But despite decent direction and acting, it just can’t overcome the writing. It had the potential to be a perhaps creepy little film, but while there are moments that are eerily effective in the first half, but that final act really didn’t work for me at all. Black Circle for me is a missed opportunity. It could have been a creepy little film, but instead came over as a bit dull.”
- Warped Perspective: “Financial constraints there might have been, but Black Circle is an impressive film which has made the absolute best of its key elements; the splicing of the 70s advertisements and info reels adds a great deal of atmosphere and everything is meticulously realised, whether meant to appear four decades old or contemporary […] But apart from the strengths of the story on a surface level, and even apart from its aesthetics, the film also conjures up some interesting anxieties about ‘living your best life’, something which is achingly modern and fraught, as well as a rich source for a horror story – as so well-realised in Black Circle.”
The 101 minute film (the first cut was 120 minutes) is mainly a Swedish-Mexican production but funds also came from the US, Italy, Finland and the UK. The world premiere was at the Monsters of Film festival in Stockholm in October 2018, and it has since been shown at festivals in Ireland, USA, Finland, Brazil, Slovenia, Italy, Finland, and Argentina. It’s general Swedish release will be in cinemas on August 23rd, 2019 and it will then screen in Boxholm (Folkets Hus), Enköping (Sagabiograferna), Hässleholm (Parkbiografen), Kiruna (Folkets Hus), Laholm (Maxim), Lidköping (Folkets Hus), Ljungby (Garvaren), Markaryd (Markaryds Biograf), Nässjö (Saga), Oskarshamn (Saga), Skoghall (Folkets Hus), Stockholm (Zita), Tullinge (Biograf Sländan), Uppsala (Fyrisbiografen), Åkersberga (Folkets Hus). There will also be upcoming screenings in Fagersta (Folkets Hus), Göteborg (Bio Roy), Kallhäll (Folkets Hus), Stockholm (Bio Rio).
Keep your eyes open for our forthcoming interview with Christina Lindberg!
Swedish trailer with English subtitles:
Full Swedish trailer: