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Thursday, April 9, 2015

ECHOES -- DVD Review by Porfle

Sleep paralysis: a frightening condition that many of us have experienced first-hand. So naturally, it's an effective theme for horror films to exploit because we can identify with the fear, the helplessness--the sheer vulnerability--that comes with it.

While some films such as 2012's ultra-creepy SHADOW PEOPLE explore this in great depth, it's only one element of the moody, atmospheric thriller ECHOES (2014). Our heroine, Anna (the gorgeous Kate French of "One Tree Hill" and "The L Word"), is an aspiring screenwriter whose bouts with insomnia cause her to seek solace in alcohol and pills. This concerns her agent and boyfriend Paul (Steven Brand, THE SCORPION KING), who suggests they take a rest leave in his secluded desert hideaway.

The angular, sleekly-designed little house with all-glass walls in the middle of nowhere is a perfect location for what happens next. After Paul is called back to the city on business, Anna's solitude in these strange surroundings intensifies her insomnia and the subsequent night terrors that come with it. This comes to a head one morning when she wakes to find the glass wall of her bedroom covered in strange numbers crudely scrawled in mud.


Jeremy (Steve Hanks), a former caretaker for Paul who lives in a trailer nearby claims ignorance, but Anna suspects he knows more about the cryptic graffiti than he's letting on. Paul, naturally, scoffs at the whole thing upon his return, especially since by then the numbers have mysteriously disappeared. But after further investigation Anna discovers that a woman who formerly lived in the house disappeared in the desert years earlier, and that she may have been linked to Paul.

But just as we start to suspect the boyfriend, ECHOES pulls a fast one on us that really changes the game and makes us wonder just what the hell's going on. The most overtly supernatural thing that's happened so far, it turns an otherwise standard suspense thriller into a possible story of possession and revenge from beyond the grave.

In his feature debut, writer-director Nils Timm shows both skill and restraint in depicting these events amidst an effective atmosphere of isolation and creeping dread. Moreover, he doesn't go for the easy shocks and jump scares of most recent creep flicks but instead builds a growing sense of unease marked by a few genuinely chilling moments.

Performances by the small cast are good and refreshingly low-key. Of note to genre fans is the presence of Billy Wirth of THE LOST BOYS and BODY SNATCHERS fame (he was also one of the very first contestants on "American Gladiators"!) as a roadside mystic and probable charlatan who claims that he can help Anna get in touch with the inner forces she's plagued with. (Both get more than they bargained for.)

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. No extras.

ECHOES captures the deadening hopelessness of insomnia and night terrors while managing to give us a lingering fright or two against the broad-daylight backdrop of the arid desert. While nothing to lose sleep over, it's a modestly effective thriller that should easily keep you awake till the end.

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