Dir: Levan Akin. Sweden. 2015. 144mins
Teenage witch drama The Circle, more a Swedish take on the US TV-series Charmed than ‘Let The Right Witch In’, must surely be low-hanging fruit for a US remake. Produced by ABBA’s Benny Andersson, amongst others, it is based on the popular Young Adult Engelsfors trilogy in which six teenage girls discover they are witches with supernatural powers who have been chosen to save the world from evil.
It’s not often you hear Kate Bush on a soundtrack, but producer Benny Andersson (also credited as composer) definitely has connections, and Running Up That Hill feels like just the right sound for a teenage witch film.
Emotionally literate in its take on High School life, The Circle is more Twilight than It Follows. There’s romance, domestic drama, and, despite two deaths, a low level of gore. It’s also very leisurely. There are rewards for those young adults – skewing female - who can brave subtitles and a 144-minute running time, however. Director Levan Akin has drawn some nice performances from his young actresses, and given their characters an unexpected degree of depth. Swedish producer RMV is committed to film all three books in the series, and the precise nature of the The Circle’s set-up indicates that they’re playing a long game.
Each witch is very clearly defined, for example. Anna-Karin (Engstrom) is plain and bullied, with a domineering mother. She receives the power to bend people to her will, and instead of fighting evil, uses it to make friends and domesticate her mother. Slutty Vanessa (Frydman) can make herself disappear, and uses the power to shoplift. Minoo (von Platen) is the class A-student; Ida (Asp) is a bully; Rebecka (Asplund) suffers from anorexia and Goth Linnea (Axelsen) is in anguish following the death of her boyfriend, also a witch, from an apparent suicide.
None of the six are natural friends, nor do they have much in common, and they must learn to work together.
The Circle is set in the fictional town of Engelsfors in central Sweden, a working-class place which looks remarkably like the rural French setting of The Returned. The Engelsfors Trilogy – The Circle, Fire and The Key – has been an international success for the authors Sara Bergmark and Mats Strandberg, published in over 30 countries including the UK and US.
All the girls of The Circle are aged 16 and have just started High School, a place which looks remarkably like any other school in the world but is identified early on as “a place of evil” (many teenagers will find that notion highly credible). The signs are there - Principal (Vega Fernandez) is a little peculiar, and the handsome teacher Max (Gudnason) is too friendly with his students.
The book’s writers have been paying attention to the most influential magic series of all time, Harry Potter, and there’s much mention of a witch’s Council, the need to control magic, and frail links between worlds, which should be expounded upon in the next episode. Of cultural context is the shadow of the Swedish witch trials of the 1600s, in particular the Mora trial, which inspired events in Salem.
Technically, The Circle is very capably made on a careful budget. There are some nice touches – in a town hit by unemployment, it feels right when the witches cook up a potion in a cheap old ice cream tub. It’s not often you hear Kate Bush on a soundtrack, but producer Benny Andersson (also credited as composer) definitely has connections, and Running Up That Hill feels like just the right sound for a teenage witch film
Production company/sales: RMV Film, Cecilia@rmvfilm.com
Producers: Cecilia Norman Mardell, Benny Andersson, Ludvig Andersson
Screenplay: Sara Bergmark Elfgren, Levan Akin
Cinematography: Neus Olle
Editor: Gustav Wachtmeister
Production designer: Roger Rosenberg
Music: Benny Andersson
Main cast: Josefin Asplund, Hanna Asp, Miranda Frydman, Irma von Platen, Leona Axelsen, Helena Engstrom, Ruth Vega Fernandez, Sverrir Gudnason