Something's Familiar About This 'Echo'

Directed by: Yam Laranas, Runtime: 90 minutes
Grade: C

Billed as a film "from the producers of The Ring and The Grudge" -- bear in mind that they're referring to the American remakes, not the Japanese originals -- The Echo does very little different than the lot of J-horror ghost copycats floating around. Its similarities to Ju-On, also known as the original Grudge, are uncanny, introducing a haunted house with a deadly mystery lying underneath as the cause of the spectral torment. Even down to the villain, yet another long dark-haired female prone to making a lot of noise, the uncanny influence from a catalog of other Asian-inspired ghost dramas drags down any sense of inventiveness -- yet the direction from Yam Laranas and a concentration on sonic punch keep The Echo alive and kicking.

Director Yam Laranas concentrates heavily on making this an exercise in sound-based claustrophobic terror, using the story of recently-released convict Bobby (Jesse Bradford) shacking up in his mother's old apartment as a basis of claustrophobia and paranoia. He's trying to pay it straight by getting a job at a mechanic and contacting an ex-girlfriend (Amelia Warner), all while getting settled into the drab and dusty conditions left by his mother when she passed on. Everything seems fine, until he starts to hear banging, scraping, and screaming from his neighbors' place. It doesn't help that the next-door apartment's owner, after a quick peek out Bobby's peep hole, seem to be a rather large, domineering cop (Kevin Durand from Lost) with a violent streak towards his family.

From the opening credits filled with screams traveling down a creepy, dark stairwell, The Echo fervently makes it know that it's going to be a sound-heavy horror flick. Within Bobby's new apartment, he hears the scraping along the walls and the pounding against a wall behind his mother's piano. It's an erratic environment that has a similar effect to that of nails dragging along a chalkboard, heightened by some clever and well-pitched textural sound design that ratchets up the tension by itself. Now, the use of the high-pitched ringing through his -- and our -- ears repeatedly throughout the picture holds little bearing on the environment and might drive someone (read: me) bonkers, but it's at least authentic to some reports of paranormal activity.

As The Echo soldiers on with negligible yet steady plot development and intensifying wall-rattling, Bobby begins to see visions outside of his apartment -- harking to Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On to tremendously obvious degrees with its maddening atmosphere. It begins to play tricks on his sanity and affect his work which heightens the density of the atmosphere, yet it grows more nonsensical as it continues forward. Very little is actually explained, allowing a vein of mystery to start coursing through film-lover's minds as Bobby stumbles across bloody clues. Don't think too hard about it, because the answer's a simple one if you've spent even a modicum of time with these types of ghost mysteries. It at least has something to say for reporting domestic violence, a thematic element that intensifies along with the brooding, ferocious atmosphere.

Naturally, the ghastly element starts to knock off people around Bobby, which sends it down some trite, foreseeable pathways done many times over in films almost exactly like it. Jesse Bradford builds an unexpectedly believable performance in projecting Bobby's tweaking sanity as the threat starts to close in on him, but the obviousness behind the events that occur once the ghost grows angrier simply squashes the tension. Some might argue that the simplistic, predictable nature of Laranas ghost mystery might root it in realism, yet it can't help but swallow the audience up in a drudging environment that's simply over familiar. But when The Echo comes to a close in an overwhelmingly easy and closure-free fashion -- answering absolutely none of the questions that it provokes -- all we're left with is solid sound design, meager characters, a bloated sense of "realism", and a falling-face-flat vague conclusion that fails to justify a well-tuned sense of moody tension.


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