Cinematic Releases: Smaller and Smaller Circles (2017)

The Spotlight of the Philippines, Smaller and Smaller Circles is a dark and moody crime thriller that offers a fascinating take on the problematic history of scandal and abuse in the Catholic church. Without going into too many comparisons with the former Best Picture Oscar winner, Circles immediately has a considerable advantage over the former with because it has a far more cerebral approach to its subject matter and handling than a simple reporters' investigation. It's darker and more engaging in its prose, getting lost amidst its procedural crime nature in a stunning fashion that somehow falters in its weirdly cliffhanger ending that feels utterly incongruous with the rest of the story.

Indie director Raya Martin admittedly does a marvelous job at keeping a tight focus on its central mystery and the troubles and tribulations that the two priests investigating the case face. There's an intense feeling of urgency behind their mission that becomes the driving force behind its story. Working in tangent with the local law enforcement, it becomes clear that they have a special inside knowledge on the circumstances surrounding the serial killer than a normal investigator would, allowing them greater access and insight to the many variables surrounding them. 

Smaller and Smaller Circles appears to be a smaller release that may fly under many people's radar, regardless of how in the know you may be on foreign cinema. Raya Martin may be someone many are unfamiliar with, but there's a hope that this might be the film to put him on the map for many. An adaptation of a novel of the same name from F.H. Batacan, it boasts a supremely confident story and screenplay that is as engaging as I'm certain its source material is. Perhaps Martin benefited from adapting an outside source material for his first commercially released film; and if he finds any more crime novels to translate into dark, brooding films, then I'm all for it.

It's far from a perfect film, but Smaller and Smaller Circles is undoubtedly deserving of your full attention as its startling mystery unfolds before your very eyes. You may even find yourself able to forgive its jarring and sudden ending that leaves its story a bit too open for my taste. It's backed by two robust lead performances and a supremely taut atmosphere that will keep you on the edge of your seat in thrilling suspense, just waiting for that tantalizing reveal waiting right around the corner for you.

-Wes Ball