With “The Seventh Circle,” Magyar scribe-helmer Arpad Sopsits completes the loose trilogy on the dark side of pre-adulthood he started two decades ago with “Shooting Gallery” and continued in 2001 with fest fave “Abandoned.” The title here refers to the Dante-esque ring of hell reserved for people who defy God or kill themselves, thus encapsulating the main ingredients of this heavy-handed but fascinating drama, as Sopsits reimagines the disturbing events that led to the suicides of two young adolescents, which shocked Hungary. Following its Karlovy Vary screening, the pic will likely circle other fests as well.
The catalyst for what will follow is the arrival of a mesmerizingly different new kid on the block, limping redhead Sebestyen (Laszlo Krikkai), who impresses the local youngsters with his knife-throwing skills. The game serves not only to impress his peers but also to root out cowards, such as the fair-haired, innocent-looking Sanyi (Benett Vilmanyi).
Having attracted the undivided attention of his new playmates, Sebestyen, whose exact origins remain unclear, starts to talk about life, death and how God might — or might not — figure in all this. Sanyi is easily impressed, and when Sebestyen apparently resurrects a dead pigeon, the other kids buy in as well.
Sanyi’s friend Jakab (Tamas Eross) is less gullible and more ruthless, a character trait that surfaces in a spine-tingling sequence centered on a game — instigated by Sebestyen — in which the kids keep plastic bags over their heads as long as possible. The scene is so disturbing it almost warrants a “no children were harmed during the making of this movie” note at the end.
However, what all this adds up to — beyond a generally ominous atmosphere — is less clear. The choice to have quite a few of the kids offer generic religious doubts and shards of psychobabble in voiceover further diffuses the pic’s focus.
Since the parents are, as in the helmer’s previous outings, largely absent, and ignorant of their offspring’s darker streaks, Sebestyen’s only opponent is a local priest (Zsolt Trill), who doesn’t seem to fathom what exactly is happening. He also has some problems himself — a shot of him dancing frantically seems especially bizarre — and their final faceoff is one of the film’s least satisfying moments.
Mari Miklos’ editing is strong, with the general sense of impending doom punctuated by brief, disturbing occurrences. Peter Toth and Peter Erdelyi’s score doesn’t have an overarching theme but supports individual scenes well.
The kids’ perfs vary; a love scene involving the de rigueur nerd from central casting (Gaspar Meses) is unconvincing, but Krikkai and Vilmanyi are impressive, and the latter’s final scene is quietly heartbreaking.