The root of the problem in the Philippines is the vicious cycle of corruption that renders its social problems incurable. Poverty and violence have become the norm in the country, where the poor are the most exploited.
Smaller and Smaller Circles tackle these topics through a horrible crime by a mysterious serial killer. It’s no stretch of the imagination that the systemic inefficiencies and corruption that beset two Jesuit priests in the ’90s still exist today – unreported crimes, incomplete records, and self-serving egos.
This movie is well made – lighting, production design, and colors are used to set an atmosphere and setting. Old school sleuthing, period details, and bleak cinematography gives it a mainstream polish. There’s a subtle use of colors too – the protagonists are garbed in black while the antagonists are all in white.
While Smaller and Smaller Circles looks great even though it’s produced by an indie outfit, changes made to the source material shifts its priorities to somewhere less compelling.
The script is focused on highlighting the systemic and social problems that the Jesuit priests encounter, diluting the potency of the source material. Here, clues are dropped early or nonchalantly. There is no build-up and a sense of urgency. The movie tries to compensate this with subplots through other characters – and the cast does a good job – but they’re simplified versions of their book counterparts.
While the book does include plenty of details on corrupt and inefficient institutions, the gist is the consequence of these overlapping broken systems. The movie’s plot uses a clever narrative device that provides the audience a peek into the killers’ minds. But changes in the second half rob the movie of the gravitas and cathartic conclusion laid out by the book.
The Filipino audience has already been reminded time and time again about the vicious cycle of violence and oppression in the country. The movie would’ve benefited more from a compelling procedural, where the detectives attempt to save a serial killer who benefits from the same corruption and neglect that made him who he is.
In fairness, this book adaptation offers something for the thinking audience. It may not have the sophistication and thrills of its genre, but it is made well enough to offer a polished social commentary on Philippine society without jittery cameras and poverty porn.
Smaller and Smaller Circles
Smaller and Smaller Circles succeeds as a social commentary against the overlapping corruption in Philippine institutions, but this adaptation dilutes the potency of its source material.