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Echoes

Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // April 14, 2015
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted April 13, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Film:




Somewhere out in the ether of fiction yet to come, the ideal blend of the writer's process and surreal psychological horror waits to be discovered and materialized for the big screen. Sure, some films have successfully dabbled with the possibilities in metaphors and meta-context, but we've yet to see that great first-person supernatural thriller about a mentally-imbalanced author getting lost in the horrors of their untrustworthy mental landscape, about what's real and what's merely part of their psychosis. The impressions left after viewing the trailer for Nils Timm's Echoes weren't strong enough to expect that it'd claim that mantle, but the tense demeanor and spooky supernatural imagery suggested that it might be a worthwhile indie-budget effort. Sadly, a handful of absorbing visuals and determined enigmas are all that's really going for this perplexing, comatose blend of stunted creativity and wavering sanity.



Echoes centers on a screenwriter, Anna (Kate French), caught in a creative funk as the final call for her most recent manuscript approaches ... and it's just not cutting it. Part of the problem stems from Anna's inability to sleep, leading her to down different medications and copious amounts of alcohol. When she does get off to sleep, she endures nightmares and frequent bouts with sleep paralysis, making it understandable that her workflow hasn't been the most consistent. To offset this, her boyfriend, Paul (Steven Brand), also the middle-man between her and the studio, whisks her off to a secluded modern house in the California desert, only to be called back to the city for work shortly after. Anna chooses to hang back at the house -- alone, prone to anxiety, without reliable phone service or a car -- and continue writing until he returns in a few days, so it comes as little surprise that she starts to see a shadowy, cracked figure in her dreams. Unsurprisingly, the strangeness surrounding the house doesn't stop there.



Director Nils Timm establishes a commendably eerie tone at the beginning of Echoes, hinged on an unpretentiously engaging visual style that elevates the confines of the desert-bound house of glass. Moody music, which sounds like something in the space between Silent Hill and the work of David Lynch, elevates the pleasingly-composed cinematography that looks as if it's been sent through numerous different Instagram filters for its color tempos. The expanses of the desert seen through the windows creates an eye-catching portrait of barren seclusion, which starts to play with the viewer's perception once Anna's problems predictably come to the surface. Granted, none of this can make the contrivances of the isolated setting seem any more reasonable -- being a "big girl" still means making smart decisions about your state of mind, Anna -- but at least there's a dose of atmosphere going on that could, in theory, support a credible mind-screw or two.



For that kind of psychological vagueness to work, there needs to be a discernible, genuine character responding to their dreams and losing their grip on reality, someone with whom it's possible to engage with their psyche. Regrettably, Anna isn't that character due to a stiff performance from L Word and One Tree Hill alum Kate French, who woodenly sleepwalks through blocked-writer stereotypes. There's a surprisingly small amount going on there for a boozy, pill-popping screenwriter with chronic sleep issues and hellish dreams, though that's also the after-effect of the script giving her very few distinguishing traits beyond a foul mouth and a streak of mild curiosity. Anxiety may escalate in the California desert as reality and insanity start to blur in Anna's mind, but the flatness of her character as a whole makes it all remarkably unconvincing and powerless to hold attention, whether she's trekking the desolate wilderness and bumping into strangers or catching a glimpse of specters in security footage.



There's a mystery in Echoes guarded by director Timm until the time's right, one that bridges the gap between the tragic history of the glass house and Anna's visions during her sleep cycles, but the faint interest in discovering that connection gets diluted by the humdrum mess leading to that revelation. Uncannily similar in concept to 2009's supbar Deadline, from the mentally-unstable female writer in her cutoff location to the paranormal events that may or may not be facets of her imagination, the film tumbles through scant, obligatory jump-scares while revealing more pieces of its thinly-veiled puzzle. On its own, that tragic story unearthed by Anna could play as a mild but coherent urban legend in front of a campfire. When combined with the film's present-day supernatural elements, however, including a detour into native spirituality, the result is a disjointed whimper of a supernatural exercise whose vein of ambiguity comes across as hesitant storytelling instead of a blur of genres.





Video and Audio:




Echoes stirs up a tolerable but generally unsatisfying 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC encode, where the line between artistic intent and flawed digital rendering gets murky at times. As mentioned earlier in the review, the film's visual style fluctuates in stylized, filtered color tones, where blues frequently fill up black levels within the glass house and tannish-browns slip into darker elements in the exteriors. It doesn't help that the contrast levels are typically a bit bright and washed out in their balance, either, making darker sequences -- especially in bedrooms -- appear gray to a point that hampers the mood. Aside from that, the clarity of the economical digital photography is suitable enough for the film's intentions but unexceptional in terms of fine detail, despite some of the distinctive textures, tight close-ups, and low-budget effects in the cinematography. It'll do, but there's not a lot worth remembering from this Blu-ray treatment.



The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track musters a stronger aural presence than the visuals, though not without its own hitches. On the positive front, the surround design holds a fairly complete atmospheric effect from start to finish, where both subtle touches -- rushing water, gusts of wind -- and potent jump-scare tactics deliver their respective effects with capable sprawl across both the front and rear channels. Balance with the creepy music renders a clear, stable sonic environment, with judicious but respectable lower-frequency response during more robust bursts of activity (cracked windows and loud crashes). Dialogue struggles in spots, though, with a good amount of clipping at the center channel during elevated conversations, though not abrasive enough to a point of inaudibility ... and, in most other cases, verbal clarity is quite suitable. Aside from that, Starz/Anchor Bay have delivered a sturdy, albeit unadorned, high-definition track.





Special Features:




Nothing to see here.





Final Thoughts:




Echoes' dime-a-dozen setup and mucky psychological drama leave it in a frustratingly uninspired state, where its compelling premise -- the untrustworthy perspective of a struggling, nightmare-addled writer struggling with what's real and what's imaginary in a supernatural environment -- lacks both a truly original hook and effective tension. Much of that rests of the shoulders of a drably-realized protagonist, both on paper and through Kate French's performance, which suppresses most of the potential that its meager visual flair and mildly intriguing paranormal angle could've mustered. It's a horror film with few effective scares, a supernatural drama without a persuasive emotional streak, and a ghostly mystery with a resolution that, generally speaking, isn't very difficult to decipher early on. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray sounds good, but sports a wishy-washy transfer and no supplements. Skip It.



Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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