The Echo (2008) Movie Review

This week I’ve taken up the Halloween Horror Flick Project challenge on Facebook, which involves watching 5 new-to-you horror films prior to Halloween and reporting back on them. With it being October, horror films are available on TV channels and on movie screens everywhere, so this fun challenge has not been so very difficult to fulfill. And let’s face it, I normally amp up my horror flick intake starting at the beginning of this month anyway. There are plenty of spooky films out there that I haven’t yet seen, and I am happy to sit down with a bag of popcorn in hand to catch a few of them.

Today I watched THE ECHO (2008), an American remake of a 2004 Filipino horror movie. Although I’ve developed a real passion for foreign horror cinema this past year, sadly being previously pretty much unfamiliar with scary movies from other parts of the world before now. The original film on which this one is based, SIGAW (2004), is a movie I have not yet seen, but have heard good things about. So I went into THE ECHO unspoiled and hopeful.

SPOILERS FOLLOW…LEAVE NOW IF YOU DON’T WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!

Ex-con Bobby (Jesse Bradford) moves into the old apartment that used to belong to his recently-deceased mother and immediately starts hearing disturbing noises through the paper-thin walls. At first it’s just loud bangs and scratching, but loud arguments soon follow, and it’s obvious there’s a nasty domestic problem next door. Over time he glimpses each of the family members involved: a police officer husband, his wife, and their little daughter. The noises of daily batterings increase, and mom starts showing up regularly at Bobby’s door to beg for assistance, only to slink back away to her own apartment when big, bad husband appears on the scene. Their silent little daughter wanders into Bobby’s apartment occasionally, too, and her well-bruised arms prove that the physical abuse is not directed only at her mother. Bobby finally decides to intervene and calls the cops, but when they arrive it is discovered that the apartment next door to him is actually empty, and the building’s super insists that particular place has been vacant since he started working in the building.

Amelia Warner as "Alyssa"

You could begin to think that maybe this was a psychological drama, and that maybe Bobby is off his rocker, after all, he has also seen the ghost of his dead mom in the apartment, and been seeing and hearing weird things that no one else has at the garage where he works, too. But we know that his girlfriend Alyssa (Amelia Warner) has also met the little girl and has started hearing disturbing things as well, so a supernatural explanation can be the only answer. When the only other neighbor left on his floor is taken away by paramedics after being literally scared to death by the now-revealed-to-be ghost of the little girl, Bobby decides to investigate further.

He finally gets the real story of what happened to his mother’s former neighbors out of the Peeping Tom flat-dweller across the way. One night the battered wife started screaming but nobody came to help her. Although they all knew she was a victim of daily abuse, everyone living in the building assumed that somebody else would call the police, or they simply didn’t want to get involved and did nothing. The next morning the family was all found dead, killed by the father who’d then committed suicide. Bobby decides that now their ghosts are haunting the building and punishing their neighbors (including his mom) who did nothing to stop this tragedy from happening.

Jesse Bradford as "Bobby"

In the meantime Alyssa comes back to the building looking for Bobby and wanders into the empty flat next door, only to suffer dreadful physical abuse at the hands of the ghost husband, but eventually escapes to Bobby’s apartment in near hysterics. While a confused and terrified Bobby watches through his peephole, the dead family’s final tragic scenes of domestic abuse are being replaying out in the hallway, and he witnesses the husband terrorizing and then bludgeoning the wife.

Iza Calzado as "Gina"

But this time before any fatal blows can be struck, Bobby steps out into the hallway and demands of the husband that the abuse must stop. Even though ghost husband threatens him with violence, Bobby stands his ground. The sight of someone finally intervening to stop their inevitable deaths seems to change something her, and ghost wife suddenly grabs the truncheon her spouse had been attacking her with and in a frenzy of battered wife revenge, beats her husband to death instead. The previous course of events changed at last by Bobby’s intervention, the ghost wife turns to smile briefly at him, then takes her ghost daughter and vanishes.

I must say that I didn’t really find THE ECHO all that scary. The first hour plays more like a psychological drama (is Bobby crazy or isn’t he?), but the second is straight ghost story with plenty of the creepy scare technique that we’ve all become familiar with from Asian cinema: somber pale females with long dark hair, jerky ghost movements, figures that pop up behind one unexpectedly, etc., so there was nothing new in the way of thrills and chills that I hadn’t seen before.

What I was was surprised by the basically “happy ending.” The usual finish for this type of horror story is that the human hero gets killed or goes crazy, and the ghosts remain stuck in some kind of never-ending pattern; doomed to repeat their deaths and seek vengeance for time eternal. Not so here, as ghost mom seemed well-satisfied with her revenge killing and it looked like their last disappearance would be quite final indeed. That one surprise was enough to please me and give this film a thumbs-up as a mostly solid little ghost story. True, the first hour is draggy and the scares don’t pack any new punches, but overall it’s a well-made flick with a strong lead, good-looking ghosts and plenty of atmosphere and production values. Plenty good enough for a Saturday afternoon or a date night.

Over the past 12 months I’ve been watching horror flicks from Korea, China, Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines, and have really enjoyed both the good and the bad ones. Cultreviews.com is just one site that has a great Top 50 recommended list, if you are interested. This time it was rather fun to see the remake before the original, but I look forward to someday watching SIGAW someday. A little research on IMDB and I discovered that battered wife (Iza Calzado) is played by the same actress in both films. It would be interesting to see how her performances and the two films compare.

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