I tried real hard, Circadian Rhythm. I tried real hard to like, then tolerate, then at the very least, appreciate on some level what you were doing. But in the end, I just couldn’t pull it off. There just wasn’t any salvaging this date, and although you were cute and I liked your glasses and haircut, and I respected that you were trying to be sort of weird and different, I don’t think we should have a second date. Circadian Rhythm, in case you haven’t heard about it, is…well, almost a total mystery. It’s not surprising if you’ve never heard of it. Despite starring a number of people who went on to healthy careers in television, and despite the fact that the internet will write in depth about almost anything no matter how terrible and low budget, Circadian Rhythm is either almost totally ignored by the types of people who would usually review a movie like Circadian Rhythm, or there are reviews but they’re buried under thousands of search returns for actual medical and biological articles about circadian rhythms, those biological clocks that keep the bulk of society waking up and going to bed at roughly the same time.
Circadian Rhythm will actually test your own circadian rhythms. The whole thing is an exercise in forcing yourself to stay awake and pay attention, which if you accomplish, you are rewarded with the cinematic equivalent of that snippet of music that plays when someone screws up on The Price is Right. I feel like I have a pretty high tolerance for and appreciation of ultra-cheap movies, not to mention the same for movies lots of other consider boring, but Circadian Rhythm beat me. It’s a directionless jumble of boring scenes strung together tenuously by a plot that feels like they were making it up as they went along but is so buried under all the other junk that any point seems to be, for the most part, totally absent.
The majority of the film’s running time involves watching a cute bespectacled woman (Rachel Miner) wander around empty warehouses and industrial zones, looking vaguely confused. On occasion, someone will attack her for some reason she doesn’t remember, and every now and then she’ll wake up in some sort of memory loop where various other characters mumble bits of exposition that are supposed to slowly dole out a revelation about what’s happening. Something about her knowing a secret she can’t remember, but that various secret agents will kill her for anyway. Is it all in her mind? An elaborate hoax? Or a vast international conspiracy somehow connected to old CIA mind control experiments and the death of J. Edgar Hoover? When the final revelation is sort of explained but not explained very well, you will feel totally cheated. We invested seventy minutes of our life into this movie for that?
Who cares? That’s what I kept asking myself as this movie meandered from one empty set to the next. For most of the running time, I had no idea what was happening, and that has less to do with me being dense, and more to do with the fact that this movie plays very coy with what the hell the plot is, but then gives you an experience that isn’t worth trying to figure out. No one in this movie engages the viewer on any level, so what mysterious something-or-other has happened to Miner’s Sarah Caul is hardly worth wondering about, let alone having teased out for an entire movie (even a short one like this). When we are finally able to puzzle out what’s supposed to be going on, it turns out to be decidedly underwhelming and kind of dumb.
Even when a viewer knows the answer to a mystery a character does not, a good story and good actors can make watching the character put the pieces together tense and thrilling despite the fact that you already know the answer to the mystery that the character is trying to solve. Circadian Rhythm doesn’t give us any reason to be interested in anything. The story is threadbare and disjointed while trying to be clever. The acting is stilted and remote most of the time. Nothing about this movie made me want to pay attention to this movie, and in the end, I made it to the closing credits purely as an act of willpower. And maybe because Rachel Miner is really cute. But even I can stare at a woman for only so long before I want the movie to do something else.
There are people in this movie who have talent, or eventually got some talent, but they don’t use or have it for Circadian Rhythm. Rachel Miner is absolutely unbelievable as the hyper-intelligent, kungfu-powered secret agent this movie informs us she’s supposed to be. She exudes no sense of power, danger, intensity, or strength, and when she leaps into action in the poorly executed, herky-jerky action scenes, it’s just ridiculous — and this coming from someone who willingly accepts willowy little women like Maggie Q as bad-asses. There’s a couple guns drawn from time to time, but Miner does that dumb “cross your arms so that you shoot the person on your right with your left gun, and vice versa” that action choreographers sometimes think looks cool. Hey, guess what? It doesn’t look cool. I’m not a gun nut or a stickler for realism, but even I recognize how stupid it would be to pointlessly cross your arms to shoot someone.
The action is directed by Xiong Xin-xin, no stranger to choreographing awesome fight scenes back in Hong Kong. He obviously has almost no raw material to work with here, and despite being a seasoned professional, he can’t come up with anything more impressive than what you could get from a micro-budget film made by high schoolers. Part of the problem may be the fact that the women who fight are kitted out in high heel boots, and the fights take place on slick tile floors. That doesn’t make for a winning combination even with experienced fighters, let alone ones who are trying to fake their way through with no discernible abilities. It’s awkward, like being over at a friend’s house when they’re getting yelled at by their parents.
Like everyone else who appears, I have no idea how Xiong ended up working on this movie. Maybe everyone thought they were working on a film for Luc Besson, bu then it turned out it was some other guy named Rene Besson. The other members of the sparse cast also went on to or already had professional careers. Sarah Wynter, who pops up from time to time to taunt and/or inform Rachel Miner’s character was a regular on 24 and The Dead Zone before appearing in Circadian Rhythm. David Anders was a reoccurring character in Alias and…wait a second. 24. Hmm. I almost get the feeling that 24 cast members decided to throw this movie together in between takes using locations where Jack Bauer tortured someone.
Also, I’m working on a theory: any movie that has a character named Prometheus, unless it’s a mythology film about the actual Prometheus, is going to be a shitty movie.
The incompetence in Circadian Rhythm is present on just about every level, but in a way that is…professional? Maybe? Some of the direction is actually inventive and eye-catching. Like, it’s not incompetent in the same way as a shot on video micro-budget horror film made by stoned horror fans. It’s be better if it was. It’s more like a really tedious, over indulgent, pretentious film school student’s final project. Maybe that’s why even places that specialize in reviewing obscure and ignored no-budget movies seem completely mum on the existence of Circadian Rhythm. Nothing works, nothing comes together, and none of it fails in a way that generates any interest even as an enjoyable train wreck.
Given that there’s so little info about this movie online, and given that what little has been written about it has been, at best, scathing, I went in with my usual dogged determination to give it a fair shake, to emerge from it as the contrarian who sees its charms. Despite some inventive cinematography and an attractive lead, though, my determination didn’t pay off this time around. The whole thing is just exhausting and tests the limits of the patience of even a forgiving viewer. It’s barely even a movie. Even if you think you might be up for something in which a cute girl in glasses has to fight her way through random ninjas and assassins for no clear reason, this isn’t the movie for you. If, however, you want to watch Rachel Miner just sort of wander around aimlessly for 71 minutes and occasionally walk across parking lots, then Circadian Rhythm has you covered.
Release Year: 2005 | Country: United States | Starring: Rachel Miner, Robert Berson, Seymour Cassel, Sarah Wynter, Adam Ambruso, David Anders, Jonathan Banks, Sigal Diamant, Lisa Jay, Aiden Cree Lafreniere, Terasa Livingstone, Rick Martins, Jason Nesmith, Shira Scott | Screenplay: James Portolese | Director: Rene Besson | Cinematography: Nicholas Hay | Music: Jason Nesmith | Producer: Robert Berson, Rene Besson, Jason Portolese