E1 Entertainment // 2008 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 26th, 2010
You Will Be Next
Take a dash of child murder mystery, a pinch of domestic drama, grind it up with a stew of spooky old haunted house, and you've got Haunted Echoes: A Ghost Story. It's also a mishmash of generic conventions that struggles to earn the gravitas of its fairly strong cast.
One night at the Dykstra household, the dog barks outside and young Kimberly goes downstairs to let him in. She's taken that night and is found raped and murdered more than a week later. The police have a suspect, but his suicide forestalls any legal justice. Hoping to get a clean start, parents Laura (Sean Young, Blade Runner) and Guy (David Starzyk, Veronica Mars) move into a new house. No sooner than their first night, they encounter a rather distressed spirit and, after numerous odd occurrences and a séance, they discover that their daughter may be communicating with them. Her case may be closed to the police, but Kimberly tells them that her killer is still on the loose, and the mystery may be bound up with the former owner of the house.
Supernatural mysteries strike me as the worst of both worlds. The mystery genre typically relies heavily on a rational approach to events like murder. By analyzing evidence, making deductions, and eliminating suspects the detective can reach solid conclusion about the who, how, and why of a crime. The supernatural, however, exists outside the rational world, delivering spirits and clues that the rational detective cannot, almost by definition, have access to. When these two worlds overlap it just isn't satisfying. The help of the spirit makes the work of the detective meaningless, robbing both the characters and viewer of the satisfaction of solving the mystery, and when the perpetrator has any relation to the supernatural the possibility of justice is almost always made remote by the fact that the spirit is beyond human influence. It's a bum deal all round.
This is exactly the problem with Haunted Echoes. It could have been a decent mystery story or it could have been a decent ghost story, but the combination just doesn't stick. The film starts out in dramatic territory as we're introduced to the unlucky couple and their new house, shifts gears into a spooky ghost story as strange things happen in the new abode, and just as the spirits reveal that the Dykstra's don't know everything about their daughter's murder the film becomes a terribly unsatisfying mystery story. I get the feeling that if the film had simply stuck with distraught parents haunted by the past misdeeds done in the house it might have been successful. Instead, Haunted Echoes tries to tie in the house's previous owner with the tragedy of the new owners, and what comes out is a story that is unsatisfying as either a drama, a ghost story, or a murder mystery. That we are left at the end with questions about who did what to whom only increases my dissatisfaction with the film.
It's not all bad, however. Aside from the one over-the-top moment afforded each of the actors, they generally treat the script with straight-faced respect. It's hard sometimes to tell if the dodgier moments are the result of the actors, the director, or the lack of development in the script, but for the most part the cast keeps it watchable. The look of the film is also sufficiently atmospheric to win it a few points. Although it's never quite convincing in conjuring up the dread it would like, the film's generally dark and slightly tarnished look serves the story.
The DVD presentation serves that look well. This is obviously a lower-budget effort, but the transfer doesn't seem to suffer from any serious problems despite the darkness of the source material. The stereo audio keeps dialogue and music well balanced and occasionally has room for some haunted atmospherics. There are no extras available on the disc, which is somewhat disappointing considering the caliber of the cast involved.
As a late-night cable channel-surfing flick, Haunted Echoes delivers decent atmosphere and solid performances for the budget. The premise may initially sound intriguing, but the film fails to live up to its potential as either a ghost story or a murder mystery. Although the DVD does a fine job in the audiovisual department, the total lack of extras is unfortunate.
Haunted Echoes is guilty of not being haunting enough.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R