Have you ever moved into a new place, spent your first afternoon inside cleaning, organizing, and trashing the previous occupants stuff? Did you feel melancholy going through somebody else's knicknacks and casually discarding their memories? If not, did you at least feel deep dread and discomfort the first time you laid down to sleep in what had been somebody else's bedroom? Creaks, cracks, and cold breezes could be nothing more than the home settling in the night. Or, you could be hearing the angry spirits in the walls. But it's probably the water pipes or something, right?...
Echoes of Fear is the frightening tale of a young woman named Alisa (Trista Robinson) who inherits her beloved grandfather's Southern California home after his sudden death. Deciding that the best thing she can do is to clean the house and sell the property as quickly as possible (in this economy?!?), Alisa moves in and immediately starts cleaning the place out. But things are not as they seem in the nice, suburban home. Drains fill with black water, the curtains seem to take human form, and Alisa is seeing things that cannot possibly be there. Is this home haunted by an avenging spirit or is something even more disturbing lurking in the attic and under the hardwood floors?
Echoes of Fear is the latest horror film from writer/director Brian Avenet-Bradley (Malignant) and the feature directorial debut of the film's co-director, Laurence Avenet-Bradley (Laurence also serves as this film's cinematographer and producer). The concept is straight forward and familiar but in the hands of this very competent and experienced team, the film is as effective as it is engaging. Simple scenes of necessary exposition and dialog are made dramatic and tense through solid cinametograpy and editing that is interesting (if not exciting). In the hands of these filmmakers, scenes that could have been overwrought montages are instead calm while still being visually arresting.
The best way to describe this movie's technical and artistic elements is to say that they are precise in their execution. Similarly budgeted horror movies can take on a "sloppy" or "raw" quality (depending on how generous one chooses to be with their descriptors) but this is not the case for Echoes. Every shot, motion, and story beat is exactly where it is intended to be. The filmmakers' intent is clear and the thought behind it is reasoned. Due to this amount of forethought, decisions that may have been financially motivated by the production do not come across as such. Setting the film (mostly) in one location and having a limited cast works in favor of the film, rather than working against it.
Trista Robinson's Alisa is more than the star of the film, she is nearly the only actor in the movie. Numerous sequences involve her character being alone for nearly the entirety of the scene. Her boyfriend, Brandon, (Paul Chirico of NBC's Grimm) shows up long enough to give the line that every terrible boyfriend gives when their significant other has a large task to tackle, "I'm hoping we can fix it up by next week," he says of Alisa's project. "We" of course meaning, not Brandon at all as he delivers this line right before he walks out the door. In the hands of a lesser actor, seeing Alisa in every scene might have become tedious. Thankfully, Robinson's wide-eyed performance does its job and the audience is captivated by her naiveté, her fear, and then her resolve. It is Alisa's growth as a character that gives this movie its form and for this we can be grateful. While the mystery of the house unfolds, Alisa develops in a well-paced and purposeful way.
Echoes of Fear is light on effects and gore but most (if not all) of the effects that are present seem to be done in camera. In an era where it is far too easy for a director to decide to throw in a blood splatter that lacks dimension, origin, or realistic lighting, this film wisely opts for practical effects. When Alisa spots a seemingly possessed plastic ball making its way down the stairs, we are treated to a series of effects that bring to mind the enthralling fear that one feels during the "The Sliding Chair" scene from Poltergeist. Here, as well as in that 80's classic, the stupidly simple trick is made cinematically affective through a combination of cinematography and the actor's performance. And, really, that's what makes all of this film's simple special effects work so well. The alarm that Alison feels is shared by the audience because she isn't looking at a spot where effect will one day be added; we are all looking at the same thing and we are all being freaked out by it.
At its heart, Echoes is about what happens when we discover the truth about a home after its inhabitants have moved on. Secrets, long buried, come to light; a past that we thought we were done having to avoid tells us it will not be ignored; and the people around us are harmed deceptions. It is while acknowledging the presence of these themes that the film is at its most stimulating.
Unfortunately, the film does not adequately explore its' themes. In the very last scene, we are given something to go home thinking about but during the course of the film, there is little to ponder. It is understandable that the filmmakers may not have set out to make an emotionally complex or thematically layered film. Many of the best horror films are similarly straightforward (I'm looking at you Halloween). But it could have been much more engaging and challenging had we seen Alison wrestling with the strange occurrences rather than merely experiencing them. We can hope that in their next feature, the Avenet-Bradley team will offer something more thematically complex while being equally scary to this film.
For what Echoes of Fear sets out to achieve, it is successful. It tells a compelling story with plenty of scares and well executed effects. The filmmaker's love of the horror genre is apparent, as is their skill while working within it. Viewers will find themselves alternatingly screaming, shouting, and shifting in their seats most uncomfortably. This is a film worth seeking out that will not disappoint.
Echoes of Fear is now playing in limited theaters (check listings here), and haunts VOD on November 12th from Artist Rights Distribution.
By Mark Gonzales