The Diminishing Returns of 'The Echo'

Hopefully the very last of an insipid glut of Asian-inspired horror remakes, The Echo strings multiple clichés together and is largely uninspired throughout.

The Echo

Director: Yam Laranas
Cast: Jesse Bradford, Amelia Warner
Distributor: Metrodome
UK Release date: 2013-04-08

The most striking aspect of The Echo has nothing to do with the film’s narrative at all; rather, it’s the realisation that someone actually wanted such a soul-sapping exercise in cinematic mediocrity to ever meet the business end of a film camera in the first place.

Produced during the latter stages of the Zeitgeist for Asian horror cinema, The Echo brings absolutely nothing new to the genre, and feels like a tired, futile exercise, a compilation of the various tropes of J-Horror packed into yet another vehicle riven with cliché and designed to wring the last vestiges of popularity from a film subgenre that has been in decline for several years now.

The Echo is a remake of a Filipino film of the same name, and is directed by the same filmmaker, Yam Laranas. I can’t imagine what possessed Laranas to involve himself in such an artistically pointless project (actually I can, and it involves multiple dollar signs and the hope of a fabled key into Tinseltown), but it should be noted that the original film -- made back in 2004 and initially titled Sigaw -- is in fact a fairly solid sleeper flick.

Still, some directors nevertheless seem bizarrely intent on rehashing their perfectly adequate material in the name of diminishing returns and a new Western audience, and this has always struck me as a rather regressive, risky and unproductive career move. (I could be very uncharitable here and suggest that even a dog knows not to return to its vomit, so filmmakers have no excuse whatsoever).

The Echo features Jesse Bradford as Bobby, recently released from prison following a sentence for involuntary manslaughter. Now a pariah and ostracised by family and friends, his only hope of social stability is a new car mechanic job acquired via the probation service, and also the possibility of rekindling a relationship with struggling waitress and beautiful ex-girlfriend Alyssa (Amelia Warner), who actually played a part in his incarceration. However, when Bobby moves into the large, shabby apartment vacated by his recently deceased mother, he starts receiving visits from a ghostly presence, causing the cracks in his life to reopen.

There really is a palpable sense of déjà vu to the proceedings, and not just because The Echo is a remake. Laranas seems fairly uninspired throughout, forging ahead and stringing multiple clichés together until the whole creaky construction flutters to the floor in little pieces. How about the presence of a silent and seemingly parentless young girl who sits alone and plays the same repetitive and supposedly spooky musical motif on a discordant little plink-plonk toy piano? Yep, there she is, outside Bobby’s apartment. The odd assortment of strange residents that occupy the large building also begin to try one’s patience too, and I get the distinct impression the that filmmakers were strongly influenced by The Shining, with Bobby’s apartment building doubling as a sort of urban Overlook Hotel, and straddling the same chasm between sanity and madness.

Like much contemporary horror, the film’s style is testing and overwrought. The interior of Bobby’s apartment is plagued by all manner of disembodied moans, groans and scraping sounds, and it’s no surprise that they are mixed too loudly into the soundtrack, just for those who require a sledgehammer with their subtlety. Perhaps worst of all, The Echo is chock full of infuriating, lazy shock cuts, embellished, quite naturally, by disproportionately cacophonous noises.

This really is a horror film bugbear of mine. Imagine creeping right up behind some poor, unsuspecting sap and then enthusiastically clanging a saucepan with a wooden spoon. No doubt you’d have to peel them off the ceiling afterwards, but is this really a clever or creative scare tactic? Does it involve any cinematic skill, or the need to sustain an atmosphere conducive to terror? No, because it is primarily the unexpected volume that rattles the senses. If you want to watch a film that does manage to convey a prolonged and intensely creepy environment by using a slow build-up of tension, you need to disregard weak contemporary efforts like The Echo and refer instead to truly great supernatural films such as The Innocents, made at a time when bluster and noise were kept to a minimum.

It would be unfair to entirely dismiss the film’s effectiveness, because amidst the wearisome and overly familiar fluff The Echo does have a few marginal redeeming moments, although they are sparse. Whilst the unconvincing actors portraying the supposedly down-at-heel and emotionally troubled main couple could have leapt straight from the pages of a health spa catalogue, the excellent character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince is, as always, a very welcome addition to the supporting cast. He uses the short amount of screen time he is afforded to create quite an impression, and it’s a testament to his skill that he is far more memorable than the film’s identikit leads.

The photography is suitably gloomy, too, and the art department has managed to imbue the labyrinthine apartment complex with a tangible wood-panelled authenticity, which does give the film some chilly realism. There are some effective scares too (when the director reigns in the noisy nonsense, that is), with several unsettling moments to be had when our protagonist is subjected to the increasingly frequent appearances of a creepy, dead-eyed female ghost. Only he can see her too, which is a stylistic device that allows Laranas and Bradford the opportunity to create some interesting and tense moments, as Bobby is forced to stifle his terror in the face of the phantom before him, lest his unsuspecting colleagues think him insane. Perhaps the most impressive element of the film is the music score by Tom Hajdu and Andy Milburn, which is both doom-laden and tastefully unobtrusive. (Oh, if only the sound designers and film editors had shown the same restraint!).

Still, these few notable qualities are unable to lift The Echo from a pit of mediocrity. When the film limps to its resolution, the climactic revelation isn’t too much of a surprise, partly because key narrative strands have already been telegraphed beforehand, so joining together the tenuous plot lines isn’t really a great stretch for someone with a keen sense of the genre. While I was watching The Echo, I was reminded that for all the flaws inherent in the work of M. Night Shyamalan, this film inadvertently confirms just how ingenious and bold The Sixth Sense really is; in fact, Shyamalan’s film reaches the very zenith of high-concept art in comparison to a very average ghost story like The Echo.

Indeed, comparisons to earlier and better films only exacerbate The Echo’s shortcomings. In the wake of masterful and genre-defining supernatural works such as The Changeling, Ringu, Honogurai Mizu no soko kara and the aforementioned The Innocents, the production of a derivative film like The Echo is akin to creating a cheap kit car version of a prestigious marque: the film may contain all the constituent elements required to make a superficially successful and appealing whole, but ultimately it’s nothing more than a façade, an insipid carbon copy, a poorly-constructed conglomeration of bits ‘n’ bobs bolted together without flair, conviction or originality.

The are no extras on the disc.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.