Columbus Circle, 2012 Film: A Tight, Suspenseful Mystery/Thriller

The ensemble cast and tight scripting of Columbus Circle delivers a deliciously Hitchcock-flavored punch, playing on our innate human fears.

The plot centers around the agoraphobic heiress, Abigail Clayton (Selma Blair), who has spent years inside her penthouse apartment in the very exclusive neighborhood of Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

So entombed is she within her ivory tower, that even Klanderman (Kevin Pollack), the concierge of long standing, has never seen her. Her needs are met by way of elegantly handwritten notes slid under the door. Her only face-to-face human contact is with her doctor and long-time family friend, Dr. Raymond Fontaine (Beau Bridges), who does penthouse calls. Her only neighbor is Hilary, an elderly lady whom she knows about but not personally.

When Hilary is found murdered, it begins a string of unusual circumstances that pulls Abigail inexorably toward the outside world she has shunned for seventeen years. The reclusive heiress’s excruciatingly slow transformation is like a birth, pain and shock evident in every millimeter of movement. Selma Blair’s performance in this transformation is nothing short of exquisite. I was biting my nails.

Her first contact with the frightful outer world is in the form of homicide detective Frank Giardello (Giovanni Ribisi), who breaches her defenses by threatening a court order if she doesn’t open her door. She complies, but hovers in the shadows as Detective Giardello keeps half insisting and half pleading for a cup of coffee. She comes slowly into the light, bringing out a delicate china cup with an elaborate monogram.

But, though Abigail is a recluse, there is steel and intelligence in her responses to Det. Giardello’s encroachment on her personal life. Her barriers are up, but the astute and savvy investigator is alert and attentive to detail. He has noted the monogram on the cup and later sketches it for an expert opinion on its origins.

To further insulate her tight little world, Abigail has applied for the apartment next door so she could have the penthouse floor to herself. She is appalled when brash new neighbors — Charlie (Jason Lee) and Lillian (Amy Smart) — move in. Charlie turns out to be a violently abusive alcoholic. As the hallway erupts in screams, Abigail peers through the tiny fish-eye lens in her door. Flashes of her own traumatic childhood blend with the present reality in a mix she is ill-equipped to face.

As the outside world slowly invades her inner sanctum with horror after horror, and her every reserve is called upon for action, Abigail goes forward as if walking into fire, fear etched in every line and movement.

In this well-paced and well-crafted mystery/thriller, nothing is what it seems and the twists and turns left me breathless. I was surprised to learn that it is an independent film directed by George Gallo and released only on video. It is well worth the time of any movie buff. I highly recommend it.

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