FANTASIA: THE ECHO Review
Long time Twitch readers may well remember us talking about Filipino horror film Sigaw a couple years back. Written and directed by Yam Laranas it came late enough in the run of Asian horror films – and in some ways played to the standard conventions of the genre enough - that many overlooked it but Sigaw was such a well crafted little gem of a film that introduced some subtle changes to the genre that I truly believe it is one of the last truly important films to come out of that initial Asian horror boom.
And so I have been tracking with great interest the development of the English language version of the film. Titled The Echo it again puts Laranas at the controls shooting a script adapted from his own by the writing duo of Eric Bernt and Shintaro Shimosawa. The result feels more like a riff on the themes that drove the original film than a straight up remake and it is arguably the most art house oriented picture to come out of Roy Lee’s very commercially minded – in a good way – Vertigo Entertainment.
Jesse Bradford (Flags Of Our Fathers) stars as Bobby, a young man freshly released from prison after serving several years for killing a man who was trying to rape Bobby’s girlfriend (Amelia Warner). Bobby is looking to build a fresh life but where to begin? His old friends have either moved away or won’t return his calls, his girl has moved along with her life without him, he has no job, the only home available to him the shabby apartment left vacant when Bobby’s mother died alone and terrified of unseen voices while Bobby was in prison. Despite being constantly surrounded by the noise and bustle of New York City Bobby is isolated and alone.
But Bobby perseveres. His parole officer finds an employer will to take a risk on him, he slowly begins to reconnect with his girl, and he slowly begins to clear the signs of his mother’s descent into madness from the apartment. What could have happened to her? Why didn’t anyone help? And did the blame lie partially on Bobby himself for leaving her unsupported while in prison?
As the signs of his mother’s paranoia become more clear – a closet with interior deadbolts stocked with tin cans and an accumulation of garbage that makes it clear she locked herself into the confined space for days at a time – Bobby’s guilt begins to grow and become more forceful until his memories and shame begin to take physical shape. He sees her in the mess left behind and begins to be plagued by strange noises coming from the walls and floor of his apartment. But those noises are nothing compared to the sounds of violence coming regularly from the apartment next door, sounds of a young wife and her little girl being beaten by the husband. It’s a horrific situation but one that Bobby feels powerless to do anything about: after all, he’s a freshly paroled convict and the man is a cop.
For fans of the original the point of similarity is obvious: young man in new apartment has to cope with domestic violence next door. And anyone who has ever been in this situation – which I have – can tell you how truly debilitating and horrifying it is before you add the additional supernatural layer that the film(s) bring in. The changes are also quite obvious. In the original film the young man was simply striking out on his own, moving into his first apartment in a bid for independence. Bobby’s criminal history, the death of his mother, and the collapse of his relationship with his girlfriend are all new devices for this version and all add layers of depth that make Bobby a more difficult and rewarding character. That strength does come with a cost in the early going as Bobby is so isolated that a healthy percentage of the film is Bobby on his own with minimal dialogue but Bradford is up to the challenge. Some of the other characters could have used a little bit more work but this is Bobby’s film all the way through and Bradford delivers.
On the technical end both films are far more about building mood and tone than piling on shock after shock and again, Laranas applies his considerable technical skills to that end. The man is a hugely accomplished cinematographer, reluctant to use digital tricks of any sort, and while he has an outside director of photography on The Echo - as opposed to Sigaw, which he shot himself – his fingerprints are all over the visuals and shooting style. Helping greatly in building the tone of the piece is the stellar sound design work that makes it clear throughout that while Bobby may be isolated he can never, ever be truly alone when living in the big city.
The Echo is a moody piece of work, a slow burner rather than a big shocker, and one that will likely prove a little bit difficult to market as a result. Just like its predecessor was not one of the big dogs in the original Asian horror boom this one arrives late enough in the remake game that some of the images have become a little overly familiar but also just like the original it shows that there is still some life in these bones and still stories worth telling.