Just when I let out a sigh of relief that the fad of Hollywood remaking Asian horror films was finally dead (or preferably slowly choking on its own blood), in true fright fest fashion the subgenre suddenly sprang back up to spit out one last surprise: the direct-to-video release of 'The Echo.' I guess it serves me right for falling for one of the oldest tricks in the book.
Truth be told, though, I had no idea 'The Echo' was a remake until I was brought up to speed by the opening credits. It turns out the film is a redo of the 2004 Filipino horror 'Sigaw' directed and co-written by Yam Yaranas. Yaranas is back in the saddle to direct this retelling, and I have to admit that I actually found parts of his film intriguing. I still think the whole idea of these remakes is totally unnecessary mind you, but 'The Echo' does have enough good things going for it to make it a hell of a lot more watchable than most if its rehash brethren. Even so, with the market being so oversaturated by these movies lately, it does have the unfortunate luck of treading down a well-beaten path.
Jesse Bradford ('Swimfan') stars as Bobby Reynolds, a troubled soul who has just been paroled from prison. Now a free man, Bobby hopes to pick up the pieces of his shattered life and put the past behind him. Although things don't go very smoothly after tracking down his former girlfriend Alyssa (Amelia Warner), at least he lands a decent job and lodging when he inherits his deceased mother's apartment. There he finds the entire place in an eerie state of disrepair, and as he sorts through the mess he begins hearing unsettling sounds within the walls of the old building. The sounds will lead to nightmares, and soon Bobby will be forced to unlock a haunting mystery--one which will make his mother's puzzling death all the more disturbing.
'The Echo' is a slow film, and perhaps the pacing is a bit too meandering on occasion, but I was generally impressed with Yaranas' ability to create a brooding and grim atmosphere. The dilapidated apartment complex is the ideal setting for this kind of horror film, and the ethereal camerawork really adds to the tension and uneasiness. The director also doesn't overuse any effects, possibly due to budgetary reasons, and because of this it's almost refreshing on that end. There aren't any CGI herky-jerky spider-crawls or flowing manes of hair that seem to have lives of their own. Just genuine old school creepiness.
The performances are above average as well. The bulk of the film rests on Bradford's shoulders, and he does a fine job in conveying emotions of simmering dread and angst. Far too often we can't care less about what happens to a protagonist, but here we're able to empathize and feel some concern for his character. Warner is capable as the former flame, though in all fairness the part isn't too demanding. But Kevin Durand ('LOST' and 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine') pretty well steals any scene he's in as the psychotic neighbor, and he only has a few lines to boot. Intimidating and intense, you can practically feel the electricity crackling all around this guy.
Still, despite solid acting and Yaranas' competent direction, 'The Echo' doesn't quite shake some of the overdone subgenre clichés. One needs to look no further than the staple creepy little kid (playing a miniature piano doing her Schroeder from 'Peanuts' impression in the hallways) and the tormented dark-haired female presence, for instance. So while I thought this movie was one of the better Asian remakes in terms of structure, what ultimately holds the film back is being a descendant of films that have desensitized us so much there just isn't much shock value anymore.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment presents 'The Echo' on a BD-25 Blu-ray Disc inside a standard blue keepcase. The U.S. version of the disc is reported to be region-locked and therefore will only function properly in Region A compatible PlayStation 3 and standalone machines.
Image Entertainment serves up 'The Echo' with a pleasing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.40:1 aspect ratio) presentation that certainly exceeded my expectations for direct-to-video fare.
'The Echo' is dark and atmospheric, and the transfer does a fine job in capturing that desired look. The unusual lighting casts a predominant yellow tint on many apartment scenes, so skin tones tend to have a jaundiced hue, but the coloring is obviously intended here. Black levels are generally solid, although they can lose some of their richness and there's some crushing in heavily shadowed areas of the hallway around the elevator. The image has a thin veil of grain and it only really spikes briefly in two or three exterior shots. Even though a few places have occasional softness to them, details and texturing are usually crisp and well rendered. The source is also free of intrusive artifacting, edge enhancement, and other anomalies. In short, this is a very nice presentation.
Many ghost story movies ('The Grudge,' 'Dark Water' etc.) often miss the boat when it comes to creating an effectively haunting surround atmosphere, but fortunately this lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivers the goods fans expect from these horror releases.
'The Echo' shines in presenting an immersive, three-dimensional soundscape. The chilling opening credit sequence is scattered with creepy sounds from all angles--footsteps, whispers, and scrapings--and they sometimes encircle the entire listening area with pristine directionality. The rear channels remain highly active throughout the film, contributing unsettling noises around the apartment complex and noticeable ambience in the diner and mechanic shop. The subwoofer has a strong presence within the score and supports the jump-moments well, while dialogue is clean and prioritized to the center channel. What more can I say? This is definitely one case where a movie is made all the better thanks to a fantastic soundtrack.
The Blu-ray also includes optional English and Spanish subtitles.
The only supplement is a two minute trailer for 'The Echo' in standard-definition.
As far as Hollywood remakes of Asian horror films go, 'The Echo' is one of the more smoothly crafted efforts, but it does feel a little stale around the edges due to bad timing. If it hadn't followed the long list of terrible clones that have already milked the idea dry, then I think the film would have left a deeper impression. On the technical front, this Blu-ray is solid, with strong video and impressive audio, although there aren't any supplements besides a measly trailer. On that note, I'd say 'The Echo' is worth a rental for horror fans.