Image Entertainment // 2008 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 13th, 2009
Open the door...I know you're in there.
Lately I've been reading Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, and that book contains a wonderful digression into the properties (both mythic and scientific) of echoes. I had not realized that one variation of the story of Echo has the nymph avoiding the company of man, which gets her killed by order of Pan. Echo is ripped asunder and the earth goddess hears her cries which always repeat what others have said. I mention this because it shows that there's some serious potential in the idea of echoes (as Danielewski was well aware when he wrote his book). Which is why The Echo is such a disappointing film. What we do not need is another remake of another foreign film with another title like The Something, where another random lonely guy may or may not be going crazy in another dingy apartment.
Bobby (Jesse Bradford,Flags of Our Fathers) just got out of prison. While he was in the joint, his mother died, leaving him her apartment. When he takes up residence there, he begins to hear things, and he becomes increasingly sure that his mother didn't die of natural causes.
The Echo is a remake of the Filipino horror film Sigaw, and it's helmed by the director of the original, Yam Laranas. That doesn't always ensure quality, but it usually means that the director's investment in the outcome means the film doesn't get the faceless Hollywood hack treatment. That's a good thing for The Echo, because poor direction would sink this script. As it is, Laranas brings a steady hand to a slightly creepy tale and ends up delivering a watchable horror flick that doesn't quite rise above the standard fare.
The one thing that The Echo undeniably gets right is atmosphere. The camera work is nice and deliberate, which builds up a sense of foreboding, and the design of the apartment building, especially the inside of Bobby's apartment is fantastic. It's not a place I would want to sleep in alone, that's for sure. The sound design is very effective at conveying a sense of impending horror, which isn't surprising for a film called The Echo. I was also impressed with the casting. Although the acting isn't going to win major awards, everyone looked like they belonged in a horror film.
On the other side, though, the film isn't always compelling from a story perspective. Bobby isn't a particularly sympathetic character, and his arc isn't always interesting. It helps that he tries to be a good guy, but ultimately I didn't care that much about him. The idea of hearing things, echoes, and curses has potential, but the trappings of the dingy apartment and the creepy little girl are just too familiar to have an impact. The film (like many horror flicks) isn't sure how to end, and the vague conclusion here doesn't live up to the film's premise.
In the film's favor, though, this is a pretty solid Blu-ray release from an AV perspective. The film's transfer is strong, with detail high throughout. This is a film with a particular color scheme, and those colors are well reproduced here. The darkness of the apartment corridors is appropriately black without obvious compression problems. The audio fares equally well, with strong directionality and a lot of clarity in the sound-space. The low end gets a surprising amount of attention in the mix, and dialogue is always easy to hear.
Much like the film's impressive atmosphere being balanced by the lackluster story, the strong audiovisual presentation is accompanied by a surprising lack of extras. On this disc we get a trailer, and that's it. Considering the film is a remake by the original director, there's obviously a lot to talk about, not to mention the film's strong set design and sound work. We just get a trailer, though.
Asian horror has a particular aesthetic, both cinematically and narratively. They're usually heavy on atmosphere, and a bit light in the story department. That totally works when I'm in the mood for that kind of film. Still, if someone is going to take the time and energy to translate the film for western audiences with a Western cast and all that, they should live up to Western expectations of narrative and presentation (Otherwise, there's no need for a remake except to avoid making people read subtitles). As a remake, the atmosphere is spot on, but the story is a bit too thin to make for a successful horror story. That, combined with the lack of extras on this disc, make the film a difficult one to recommend, even with the strong audiovisual presentation.
The Echo is guilty. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R