Circle Of Bones (Philippines 2020)

Rating: *
Review Date: 10/24/21
Cast: Sarah Chang, Marela Torre, Jana Victoria

It sounded promising. The "female cops vs. satanic cult" premise intrigued me enough to drive thirty miles to the only theater that was showing it, and I was the only person there. While I appreciated the tone and intent, the direction was amateurish and the execution was sorely lacking. While investigating a human trafficking operation, a SWAT team is wiped out by a supernatural creature. Looking for clues to what happened, Detective Liz Fajardo (Jana Victoria) visits an ex-FBI agent named Karen Wu (Sarah Chang) who had a similar experience that left her disfigured and insane. The rest of the film plays out as a flashback of Karen's investigation to track down her lost team with the aid of a local policewoman named Luciana Ramos (Marela Torre). A devil worshipping cult in Bohol is kidnapping and sacrificing people, and one particular 10 year old girl holds the key to their leader's immortality. In order to save the girl and wipe out the cult, Karen and Lucy risk their lives to infiltrate the cult's temple and battle against the undead. But can a crazy woman be considered a reliable narrator?

It's always sad to see a film self-destruct before your eyes, when a more polished script and better editing could have potentially saved it. The film is difficult to follow, and the flashback approach makes it even more confusing. It feels like a framing device that was added later in order to pad the running time, and seriously derails the tension and pacing. The action scenes are weak and the fight scenes are a jumbled mess of quick and confusing cuts, which is unfortunate considering that Sarah Chang is an accomplished wushu artist. All of the women are attractive, athletic, and energetic, and a more thoughtful approach to the action scenes might have been able to redeem the film and make up for its other shortcomings. The horror elements are adequate, but unremarkable, and pumped up with a hilariously overbearing music score. The visual effects are obviously low budget, but mostly effective, and drone shots are annoyingly jittery due to using different frame rates and shutter speeds.

The acting is a mixed bag because of the consistently awkward and clunky dialog, and the fact that most of the cast is bilingual. Often times it looks like the actors are just reciting lines and don't understand each other (or even themselves) when they're speaking. Sarah Chang's "crazy Karen" persona is needlessly cringey and unconvincing, and could have been handled better. What's worse is that Jana Victoria's English lines are obviously dubbed, which becomes increasingly worse as the film wears on. Half of the film is in English while the rest is in Tagalog, but they didn't bother to subtitle the Tagalog for the US release, so I didn't understand what they were saying most of the time. However, given how bad and cringe-worthy the English dialog was, I probably wasn't missing out on much. The editing makes the film even harder to follow and continuity is a nagging problem throughout. A mid-credits epilogue that tries to instill some last minute dread makes absolutely no sense and only succeeds in highlighting the filmmakers' incompetence. Or maybe I'm just too stupid to figure out how all of the pieces are supposed to fit together. As a female action film, it sets the right tone and hits the right notes, but poor camera work and editing spoil the end result.