PLOT: April Riley (Alisha Seaton) enjoys a quiet life. She and her hot wife Casey (Jeannie Bolet) live in moderation, happily raising their young daughter Sarah (Melissa Lee). Until one day April receives a letter from Rachel (Angela Landis), her ex, said to have died 10 years prior. The letter exhorts April of the danger she is in, how an old harridan named Anne Cassavettes is hell-bent on finding Sarah and stripping away her “Echo,” supernatural ESP powers and telekinetic skill. With the help of a detective, April looks to rid the escalating drama from her life and return to the safe, idyllic living she’s been accustomed to.
REVIEW: Longtime editor turned writer/director Brian Feeney’s debut feature THE ECHO GAME is an odd melding of supernatural and slasher horror. It turns out this Cassavettes woman (a nice nod to THE FURY & ROSEMARY’S BABY’S John Cassavetes) is the widow of mad scientist who specialized in ESP. Her hubby ran a school for the gifted, trying to help kids harness their supernatural skill for the better good. When the dude died, Anne continued on with the school, nefariously usurping the children’s powers for her own betterment. She called it the Echo Project, seedily exploiting the kids through what they deemed a harmless bout of playtime. When subsequently finding a picture of Sarah, the little girl, Anne and her coterie whisk off to retrieve their damn Echo.
And that’s the formula Feeney more or less sticks to: a paltry series of hunt-and-slash vignettes with the occasional ESP visual effect (courtesy of Psycho Bunny). Some of the gore in the picture is impressive, in particular when a hot nurse (Hester Van Hooven) is viciously felled via butcher knife. And there’s a decent kill-count, some of which pitting ESP-on-ESP crime, which is at times fun to watch. But when the story finally reveals its major secret, it comes at a point where we’ve either already tuned out, or have gotten too tangled in all of the various spun yarns to keep up. Until this point, the through-lines are quite nebulous, even irritating (to us and April and Casey as well, who’s just as shocked to learn the family secret). Good thing the steady stints of throwback 70s-80s gratuitous boobies kept me at ease.
Co-scripted by one of the films producers, John Ross (FREAKY FARON), THE ECHO GAME seems to be pulling from a vast array of predecessors. Whether its CARRIE or THE FURY, or any number of 80s sci-fi/horrors – perhaps aside from featuring a hot-lesbo leading couple (probably seen in a Jess Franco or Jean Rollin film), the flick hardly sets itself apart from countless derivatives. The look of the film, shot with an HPX 500 by Jeffrey Waldron, is mostly diffused with a clutch of natural light and bright a color palate. As a result, the flick looks unabashedly video, but not overly amateurish. The visual F/X in the film, notable the opening title sequence and its purple haze splendor, are among some of the best attributes. The original score by Austin Wintory (GRACE, LIVE EVIL) is quite inspired, shrill yet subtle, and though used sparsely, hits the right level of dread and unease. When you hear it, you feel a sense of impending menace, and that culls a wave of much needed suspense.
But the bottom line remains: film is a show me, not tell me medium. Unfortunately THE ECHO GAME is bogged down by far too much exposition and not enough exhibition. Too much convoluted back-story and stilted dialog in between the action/scares, while not excruciatingly boring, seems to weigh the film down as a whole. As far as the acting goes, its serviceable bordering on smoked ham, but nothing too ludicrous. I enjoyed Seaton’s performance for the most part, and the dude who plays Detective Simmons (David Ghilardi) adds the right dose of sleaze and faux-elegance to conjure a handful of laughs. Oh, and the oddball Urkel-Michael Bivens hybrid (Randy D. Patman Jr.), you know, the portly bespectacled crooner from Bell Biv Devoe, he had some decent one-liners. Overall though the sum of the flick doesn’t equal the isolated parts of quality. If games are supposed to be fun, save for a few moments, THE ECHO GAME hardly constitutes.