Smaller and Smaller Circles Movie Review
Written by Ryan Holloway
Released by Buchi Boy Films
Directed by Raya Martin
Written by Raymond Lee and Ria Limjap
2018, 111 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Fractured Visions Film Festival screening 30th September 2018
Carla Humphries as Joanna Bonifacio
Nonie Buencamino as Father Augusto Saenz, SJ
Sid Lucero as Father Jerome Lucero, SJ
Based on the award-winning crime novel of the same name, Smaller and Smaller Circles sees a pair of priests, who specialise in forensics, help with an investigation to solve the murder of a local boy found on a rubbish dump in Patayas. The plot thickens when it doesn’t seem to be an isolated case but the work of a serial killer.
It’s clear from the outset that this film is punching above its weight. The budget is low but the passion is there, as is the strong source material. What the film also has is a beautifully muddy look, which really adds to the atmosphere of a film dealing with quite icky goings on.
Part satire, part crime drama and part thriller, the film tries very hard to be convincing and hard hitting as it deals with some heavy themes.
Father Saenz (Buencamino) is a likable character, a little bit Sherlock Holmes and a touch of Columbo. His ‘Watson’ Father Lucero (Jerome Lucero) is also a well rounded character and watching the pair file though evidence and attempt to solve the very nasty crimes is often very charming.
As more murders take place and they come under pressure from a sleazy cop who wants to undermine them, and make arrests, there also comes the addition of internal problems with the church, and Father Saenz is revealed to be someone that the Church both fears and respects as he has, in the past, investigated fellow priests. It’s awkward and all a bit too close to home but adds some gravitas to what is essentially quite a simple premise.
When TV Reporter Joanna Bonifacio (Humphries) turns up, it adds an extra dimension, as she is probably the most complex character on offer, a borderline alcoholic who later stumbles across a key piece of evidence.
Sadly we don’t really get to know her any more than that, and this is also the case with the rest of the cast who get so much screen time that is largely wasted with plodding dialogue that doesn’t advance the story enough.
Our devoted duo are at times fun to watch, they have some good banter and give the film a very dry sense of humour which helps offset the very macabre nature of the murders themselves. The victims are all killed the same way, with various parts removed, which makes for difficult viewing, especially during an autopsy with some very realistic looking practical effects.
For all his hard work, director Raya Martin is unable to give us anything to really get our teeth into and what could be a complex crime thriller becomes increasingly tiresome. Nothing really ever happens and the film, which comes out of the gates with a slow brooding sense of reality, never moves into another gear.
In the first act we see Father Saenz emailing a friend and we are subjected to him reading aloud his conversation as... he... types... It’s incredibly tedious and instead of building suspense, completely diffuses it.
More tedious are some of the procedural elements that just feel like you’re watching an actual real-life documentary about forensics rather than a piece of slick entertainment. Conversations that lead to realisations are mind-numbingly slow.
What is also perplexing is that acting, although not entirely distracting, looks like a struggle with some of the dialogue even being stumbled over as if the director had an allergy to doing more than one take, this makes you realise that the editor probably didn’t have much to play with.
If you like your crime drama to be full of talking, so much talking, then Smaller and Smaller Circles may appeal but with audiences getting spoiled as hell with standards of TV crime thrillers getting stronger and stronger, this little film, which has its charm, could struggle to find its place.