Starring Kate French, Steven Brand, Billy Wirth, Steve Hanks, Caroline Whitney Smith. Directed by Nils Timm. (2014, 88 min). Anchor Bay
As a lifelong horror fan, I love coming across a new and relatively obscure film, the kind that doesn’t get the attention of the multiplex mallrat crowd, yet turns out to be a hidden gem. I’m always on the lookout for those. But for every fantastic fright fest like 1988’s Scarecrows (one of the most underrated low budget horror films of all time) or 2013’s disturbing & surreal Rigor Mortis, I end up enduring scores of derivative, forgettable flicks like Echoes.
But here’s the thing…unlike a lot of truly terrible, amateurish garbage passing itself off as horror (especially the direct-to-video stuff), Echoes isn’t necessarily a bad film. In fact, it’s competently directed & shot, featuring decent performances and a story that doesn’t insult your intelligence. However, it isn’t very imaginative, perhaps even overly-conservative at times. Aside from its interesting setting, there’s no real attempt to make it stand out as anything other than a passable time killer on a dull evening. And even then, you aren’t likely to hit the pause button while using the bathroom or heading to the fridge for another beer.
Anna (Kate French) is a troubled writer who suffers from paralyzing night terrors. After taking off with boyfriend/editor Paul (Steven Brand) to his immaculate desert retreat, she has terrifying visions of an evil sand-ravaged spirit, a woman who repeatedly shows up to take care of some unfinished business. Unless you’ve never seen a single ghost story your entire life, you already know this means she’s not necessarily the main villain (though she uses Anna to kill a few people who never wronged her to begin with). This has been a standard movie trope for years, but writer/director Nils Timm makes no attempt to put any kind of unique spin on things, content to dish out yet-another vengeful spirit story we’ve all seen countless times.
While there are some fine visual moments (the desert has always been an eerie place, which this film exploits fairly well), the characters are pretty bland and the story plays more like a checklist. Troubled protagonist? Check. Surreal dream sequence? Check. Ominous written messages from an angry spirit? Check…
I could go on, but what’s the point? You’ll already know what’s going to happen long before Anna does, and even though originality isn’t always a prerequisite for good horror, Echoes comes to a disappointing (and anticlimactic) conclusion.