Filipino director Yam Laranas’ new film “The Echo” is yet another entry into the ever expanding genre of Asian atmospheric horror films. It uses most of the standard visual and thematic cues of its more famous Japanese forbearers, but does it effectively, and as a result creates an interesting and suspenseful film. Well put together, with its share of frights and startling images, “The Echo” is a haunted house movie that manages to hold its own in a genre that has become increasingly crowded now that Hollywood has gotten into the act.
The film opens with Marvin (Richard Gutierrez) moving into a ratty apartment in a rundown building. Marvin really doesn’t want to live there, but it’s his way of expressing his independence from his mother. Soon after moving in, Marvin becomes acutely aware that something’s not quite right about his new pad. The elevator has a mind of its own and his apartment door swings open at random. At the end of the hall lives Anna (Iza Calzado), her abusive cop husband Bert (Jomari Yllana), and their young daughter Lara (Ella Guevara), and every night Marvin listens to Bert beat up on Anna, and soon she comes knocking on his door asking him to watch Lara till Bert cools off.
Stranger things start happening as the water stains on Marvin’s ceiling draw out the image of a screaming woman, and Lara starts to appear and disappear in his room at will. At first Marvin thinks he’s just seeing things, but soon the ghostly images appear to his girlfriend Pinky (Angel Locsin) as well. Things reach a head when Anna and Lara start appearing covered in blood only to disappear an instant later. Pinky begs Marvin to move out, but much to her dismay, Marvin is too proud to move back home or ask Pinky’s family for help.
While the plot of “The Echo” may seem familiar to genre fans, like ground that’s been treaded upon one time too many, I haven’t seen “Ju-on: The Grudge,” “Dark Water” or any of the Hollywood remakes, so it all seems fresh and interesting to me. “The Echo” sports impressive visuals that make it a treat to watch. The dilapidated and decaying apartment building chosen as the setting is quite spooky on its own, but Laranas skillfully balances the lighting with measured camera movements to create ominous atmosphere. Laranas also effectively uses the building’s claustrophobic hallways and weird off-green lighting to create surroundings that make Marvin’s paranoia palpable.
The building itself almost becomes a living thing, as well as an active participant in the action. From the curtains that never stay up, to the water stains on the ceiling that recall Barton Fink’s sleazy digs, the production design team did a very good job of putting in the little details to make every corner of the building ooze and throb with understated menace. Laranas also keeps the audience’s attention by playing with the chronology of the film, overlaying past and present to create a disorienting experience.
The spooky visuals are complimented by equally creepy sound design. Much of the film’s atmosphere is built solidly upon the noises that Marvin hears. The clanking elevator, the arguing couple down the hall, the frantic knocking on Marvin’s door — they all contribute to bringing the building to life. The sound design is also smartly kept subtle and doesn’t cheapen itself by going to the well one time too often for those overly familiar and clich’d ‘BOO!’ moments.
The film’s greatest weakness is that it spends too much time setting up the surprise discovery and not enough time or effort with the resolution. The film opens well and the creepy atmosphere keeps the viewer’s attention for a while, but it soon becomes apparent that not much is happening to progress the story. We just keep seeing more weird images and apparitions, but they don’t provide any new information or insight about what the last apparition did. When the film does finally move on and we learn about the source of the images haunting Marvin, the revelation is a letdown. All of that build-up begs for something more profound, and it doesn’t help that Marvin’s resolution to the ghost problem involves little more than him standing at the threshold of his apartment watching the ghosts sort out their problems. What was the point of including him in on the supernatural happenings in the first place?
While nothing new in terms of the themes it covers or its approach to the presentation, “The Echo” is still worth a look for fans of the atmospheric horror genre. The film is visually arresting and does a good job of building and sustaining suspense, as well as a palpable sense of constant dread.
Yam Laranas (director) / Roy C. Iglesias, Yam Laranas (screenplay)
CAST: Jomari Yllana …. Bert
Richard Gutierrez …. Marvin
Angel Locsin …. Pinky
Iza Calzado …. Anna
James Blanco …. Jude
Janella Denise Guevarra …. Lara