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.
Video and Audio:
Draped from top to bottom in tans and blistering yellows in its 2.39:1 aspect ratio, The Echo offers a moody if flawed standard-definition visual experience. It's blurry and flat in a few sequences, while showcasing a fairly heavy level of digital grain against the image. Color solidity, however, looks rather good, from the orange and yellow tints to the scant splashes of blues in the outside-the-apartment sequences and the speckles of green and red draped throughout. Furthermore, some rather dense edge enhancement and fluctuating contrast levels can be spotted. For a film of its age, The Echo should've looked a bit better.
However, Image's disc counterbalances its visual weakness with an exceedingly robust Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Since The Echo's just a densely aural experience, it needs to step up in the full spectrum of sound design -- from piercing highs and midrange elements during the neighbors' yelling to lower-frequency thickness in the scraping against the walls. It does an excruciatingly detailed job in doing so, as well as preserving higher-level elements like the playing of a small xylophone in the hallway of the apartment. Though it's quite a few steps behind the Master Audio track on the Blu-ray, The Echo rattles on with hair-raising quality in this impressive standard-definition option. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.
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. 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, of course, Verbinski's Ring remake).