Monday, November 02, 2009

The Echo (2008)

The Echo (Yam Laranas, 2008)

My biggest gripe with regards to remakes, whether they are Hollywood remakes of Asian films or the other way around, is that I simply cannot fathom the unpalatable wastage of both talent and money that is used to merely translate what supposedly is a universal narrative to suit cultural smugness. The once-lucrative business of remaking Asian horror films, those quiet and atmospheric thrillers produced and released in Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Thailand that usually feature long-haired spooks killing people through curses (best examples of which like Ringu (Hideo Nakata, 1998), Kairo (Pulse, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001) and Shutter (Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom, 2004) are often reflections of the malaise of our consistently modern world) into Hollywood blockbusters, more often than not transporting the subject matter of the horror to suit the American landscape (with the exception of the remake to Takashi Shimizu's The Grudge (2004), where he has American expatriates being chased by Japanese ghosts in Tokyo) have produced a number of embarrassing duds. Predictably, the fad has come to its well-deserved rest. This leaves some remakes that were mounted during the tail-end of the fad without any public interest, consequently lessening its commercial viability.

Yam Laranas' The Echo, the Hollywood remake of his own Sigaw (The Echo, 2004), is sadly one of the victims of the dissipation of the fad. Instead of getting a proper run at the theaters, it was released directly to video, except in a few territories where it got a festival run or a few weeks at the theaters. It's a shame. While admittedly problematic, The Echo, assessed independently of its clever source material, is a tautly made ghost story. Laranas, a cinematographer before he ventured on directing (his masterful cinematography for Raymond Red's mysteriously enigmatic Bayani (Heroes, 1992) created for the film an atmosphere of endless possibilities within Red's alternate history milieu), manages to sustain prolonged moments of silence through an assured control of the visuals. The camera (through the film's cinematographer Matthew Irving) wafts through the hallways of the ancient apartment building, observant of each and every curiosity, from its peculiar denizens to its discomforting emptiness, that adds personality to the structure. The story unfolds at a turtle-speed pace; as if nothing is happening until the film's prolonged reliance on sullen mood and atmosphere gives way to a culminating series of shocks, chills, and panic.

Screenwriters Eric Bernt and Shintaro Shimosawa updates the screenplay of Laranas and Roy Iglesias to suit the alienating ambience of New York City. Instead of the newly independent twenty-something (played with matinée idol efficiency by Richard Gutierrez) who purchases the haunted apartment for very cheap, a paroled ex-convict (Jesse Bradford) who returns to the apartment of his mother, whom he abandoned for several years and has died mysteriously, only to be bothered by strange sounds and apparitions. It is quite an interesting update. Bradford's ex-convict is a pathetic character. Plucked from the penitentiary where he spent several years without any contact from the outside world and into the big city, he struggles to regain the life he lost when he accidentally killed a man who harassed his then-girlfriend (Amelia Warner). Just when he manages to get his act together (he lands a job in a car repair shop and somewhat wins his ex-girlfriend back), the haunting reaches a severity that becomes more threatening than occasional screeches and scratches from the apartment next door.

The machinations that lead to the character's fate of being inescapably guilt-ridden is a reminder of the web that inevitably connects all humanity despite our conscious efforts to disassociate; we are essentially bound by the evil that we create and choose to ignore. Where Sigaw was more intimate in its horror, with the ghost choosing to haunt through timelines because of a single individual's indifference (a character from the past that was thankfully completely scrapped out of the remake) to another person's pleas for help, The Echo chose to expand its horrors and becomes accusatory of humanity's inherent capacity for indifference, probably brought about by an alarming level of callousness to evil. Although preachy as placed during the film's revelatory stage, the witness from the building across talks of this undoubted connection between each and every one of us and despite that, the greatest sin this connectivity, especially in a city where people's dwellings are usually separated only by walls, is that humanity has developed a capacity to merely watch, stay connected, without choosing to get involved, probably out of fear, or worse, a general lack of concern.

The film's expansion to indict all of humanity for the sins of the murderously violent husband (Kevin Durand) against his poor wife (Iza Calzado) and kid (Jamie Bloch) seems to have given the ghosts a reason to harm and kill people, an update I thought was only done only to satisfy the requisites of the genre but did not really improve the film (except for certain exceptional scare pieces). It is more unsettling that the ghosts are just there, reminding the people they choose to haunt that they exist, and in turn, turning these people's lives into palpable nightmares (in Sigaw, the couple decides to just escape by watching a movie but even inside the comforting confines of the theater, where everyone else is enjoying themselves, they remain haunted). The several deaths become an excess, completely unnecessary because it pulls us away from the drama of the ex-convict whose life problems are only enunciated by the hauntings. Nevertheless, The Echo, with its sad fate of being lumped together with films that its producers deem unworthy to receive a chance at the box office, is actually quite good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is not an improvement over Sigaw. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to pick who had the more leaden performance, Gutierrez or Jesse Bradford. The female lead does no better. When "Mr. Madonna" gives the most credible performance in a film, then you know for sure this was not an actor's picture. At best, Sigaw was an inspired riff on the Asian horror wave, at worst, some might call it plain jane mimicry, be it a glossy one for a Filipino feature. Maybe Patient X is a far more telling signpost of where Gutierrez's and Laranas' talents lie.