Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: Circulation

By Mike Everleth ⋅ May 7, 2008

Woman standing in the desert

The great desert-set movie thrillers, like Breakdown, The Hitcher and Duel, all basically feature the same motivating drive for their protagonists: Get out of the desert. (After evading the psycho on their trail first, naturally.) Writer/director Ryan Harper tweaks this convention to mostly positive results in his debut thriller, which you can kind of gather from his title. Rather than trying to escape the desert, the dual protagonists of Circulation must find their destiny while driving around in circles within it.

On the surface, the film seems to belong to Ana (Yvonne Delarosa), a beautiful young Latina on her way to a rendezvous with her boyfriend. But on the way, she’s accosted by her abusive ex-husband and his goons who kidnap and abuse her in the back of a truck, which has an accident whereupon Ana flees into the desert for her life. Eventually the husband crawls from the wreckage and pursues Ana. And from that description, it sounds like the set-up of just about every other desert-set thriller.

The real star of the story here, though, is Gene (Sherman Koltz), an American gringo who picks Ana up on the side of the road after the accident. This rescue is the second time we see Gene. The first being the opening scene, a noir-ish shot of Gene driving his run-down truck while his voice-over clues us into the nature of his aimless wandering on the desert’s dark roads. He’s trapped really just by having nowhere else to go.

However, meeting Ana gives Gene a purpose as her guide in this land that looks like the same place prior to the accident, but is in reality an icky mirror world. How is it “icky”? Well, most of the people that Gene and Ana meet like to vomit up a disgusting, flesh-dissolving acidic bile on each other whenever they get a chance.

Ana can’t quite figure out what’s going on and her crusty gringo guide isn’t keen on explaining the situation to her. Plus, in many ways he really can’t since she and he don’t speak the same language. This is a clever way, too, for the script to not include “that” scene, you know that scene in which one character explains everything to another character just so that the audience knows exactly what’s happening.

Harper does an excellent job avoiding “that” scene. As the film slowly progresses — and it’s a fairly slowly paced film — it’s pretty apparent where Gene and Ana are and what exactly is happening to them, which I’m not too keen on spoiling here. It’s not a grand mystery or anything, but a lot of the appeal of the film is how nicely Harper lets the film reveal itself.

The film has a lot going for it in a lot of other ways, too, including really gorgeous cinematography by Paul Nordin. Also, the two leads are excellent. Playing a character thrown into a mysterious and confounding situation, Delarosa keeps her performance very subdued and believable throughout the film and the despair she feels as her situation becomes progressively hopeless is palpable. Koltz is excellent, too, with a Billy Bob Thornton kind of vibe going on.

Like other desert-set thrillers, Ana and Gene do have a psycho they have to avoid, i.e. her murderous ex-husband, the film is mostly just these two driving around to different locations, having to rely on each other to discover their personal fates. While this means there are parts of the film that lack momentum, overall the unique predicament the two protagonists are thrown into creates a unique new vibe for an old set-up.