CIRCLE OF LIES
On the first day of a new school year, Denise (Hilary Caitens) is back, much to the annoyance of her classmate and former friend Kirsty (Anna Lawrence). Centre of attention, Kirsty, rules "the exclusives", the ultra-cool kids in school. Kirsty has a new mission this year, to destroy Denise. Stealing Denise's boyfriend, ruining her reputation and turning the school, in fact the whole of Short Beach, into a wild rumour mill - Kirsty will stop at nothing to be the most popular girl at Short Beach High. Everyone gangs up on Denise, even her friends, believing Kisty's vicious lies.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Set in a beachside Australian high school, there are several themes on which the screenplay is built, from bullying and social status to sexual assault ... but also friendship, parenting and self esteem. It's a lot to work with, but given the explosive nature of teenage years, the film never seems contrived or forced. Mind you, that's also thanks to some terrific performances from the largely young cast, with the memorable exception of the Principal, Pamela Stammer, played by the talented Genevieve Morris, who TV watchers will recognise as the Bad Manager at the Bad Bank commercial.
Hilary Caitens is heartbreakingly fragile as Denise, accused of being a slut and condemned by the entire school. She is the one telling the story, and while you could say it's a message board of a film, that's exactly what it sets out to be.
Anna Lawrence is brilliant at Kirsty, the nasty, self centred bitch and Ryan Harrison makes a solid job of the challenging role of Aiden, who is manipulated by Kirsty. Karina Banno is great as Denise's friend and newcomer Luke Webb makes a great debut as GB, whose practical support for Denise plays a key role in the resolution.
Technical work is all pro, and Matt Cerwen gets plenty of energy into the pace, including some multi-screen inserts which work because they fit into the contempo mood, often accompanied by a pulsing soundtrack.
Review by Louise Keller:
While there are some valid points about bullying and sexual promiscuity in this Aussie drama by first time director Matt Cerwen, the film is more successful in depicting its mood of a beach-side schoolies-like atmosphere than offering a cohesive story with real characters. First time screenwriter Scott Herford's diary-like format is fine, offering a structure through which we discover the series of events that transpire, but the film does not seem to know whether it is trying to be a drama or a comi-drama in the vein of Mean Girls, when the stereotypical characters are not large, entertaining or funny enough. From the inclusion of reachout.com logo at the end of the film, it is clear that the filmmakers are motivated by the serious message, but the circle of lies concocted by a conniving, would-be school princess seem a little too far removed from reality.
Aimed at the teen market, Sydney beaches, bikini babes, beach frolics, surf and sun are given the star treatment as the backdrop on which the story is set. A couple of kangaroos are thrown in for good measure (not in the water) - presumably to stamp the film with the Australian brand. I suspect many teenagers would be happy to attend a school like Short Beach High, where there seems to be little work done, but plenty of play. It is through the protagonist Denise Dixon (Hilary Caitens) that the story is told, beginning with the notions that friendship, love and popularity are the most important things to which a schoolgirl can aspire.
The repetitive nature and overdone way in which Denise is depicted in offensive four letter word descriptions, having allegedly slept with the whole swim team, tends to undermine its message as we slowly learn about the events that took place. Aside from Genevieve Morris as the school principal and John Boxer as the swim-team coach, who have been directed to deliver larger-than-life and over-the-top performances, the rest of the talented young cast all give naturalistic performances. Standouts are Anna Lawrence as cheer-leader princess Kirsty with the curls, pout and brattish behaviour, Caitens as the distressed Denise and Ryan Harrison as the school's confused golden boy who has a relationship with both.
The best thing about the film is the great atmosphere that Cerwen has elicited from his young cast and the genuine sense of camaraderie. The tension between Denise and Kirsty is of the lollypop kind and their face-off in the locker room is totally unbelievable. But if the film highlights the issue of bullying in a positive way and gets teenagers talking about it, or better still seeking counselling, it is not a bad way of getting the message out there.
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CIRCLE OF LIES (MA15+)
CAST: Hilary Caitens, Anna Lawrence, Ryan Harrison, Karina Banno, Nikki Webster, Stephen Multari, Luke Webb, Genevieve Morris, Sarah Chadwick, John Boxer
PRODUCER: Scott S. Herford, Steve Jaggi, Liz Shute
DIRECTOR: Matt Cerwen
SCRIPT: Scott S. Herford (Miia Child script editor)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Agganis (water cinematography Jack McCoy)
EDITOR: Jane Moran, Milena Romanin
MUSIC: Adam Sofo
PRODUCTION DESIGN: La-Rā Hinckeldeyn
RUNNING TIME: 81 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Circle Of Lies
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: NSW: August 29, 2013; other states later