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.
Note: Though menus shots are from the DVD, they're practically the same as the Blu-ray.
Video and Audio:
Draped from top to bottom in tans and blistering yellows in its 2.39:1 aspect ratio, The Echo actually offers a pretty stark visual experience with its 1080p AVC image. Fine details are tightly realized, especially against the textures on the walls Bobby persistently leans against, while a fluid grasp on contrast can be clearly seen through fluctuating dark oranges and browns in dimly lit sequences. There are a few scant sequences where crisp, cold blues and an industrial color palette show off some not-so-warm photography, which are handle well -- if a bit flat. Overall, the visual experience in The Echo is certainly well-detailed and fairly impressive, holding a grim yet tempered atmosphere throughout the picture.
Staying step for step with the sound, the English DTS HD Master Audio track really grasps the grinding sound design from the film. It replicates the scraping against the textured walls with spine-tingling precision along the low-frequency channel, while leaping to potent high and mid-range levels with imposing screams and throaty yelling from the neighbors' apartment. The quality stretches to the back on aggressive fashion, taking similar skin-curdling effects and driving them towards the rear of the soundstage with equal vigor. It never sacrifices clarity in verbal strength either, keeping the low-key dialogue in the script audible. The Echo predicates its success on effectiveness in its projection of sound, and Image's Blu-ray does an exceptional job in doing so. English SDH and Spanish subtitles accompany the Master Audio track.
Though some discussion from the producer and director about their influences would be a welcome addition, The Echo only cones adorned with a Trailer of the film as a supplement.
If you've never seen the likes of the original Japanese Ring or The Grudge, grab a hold of those before settling in with Yam Laranas' The Echo -- which is essentially a J-Horror flick in dramatic and mood-heavy construction with an English-speaking cast. However, if you're starved for yet another ghost drama, then the maddening sound design and swelling tension will be worth a Rental. It's especially potent by way of Image's Blu-ray, which offers a potent DTS HD Master Audio track that certainly gets the shiver-worthy point across. The Echo isn't all that original when compared to its foreign brethren, but it certainly bests most of the American remakes from the past several years (save Verbinski's Ring remake).