GORE IN THE STORE
ECHOES OF FEAR - ***
Directed by: Brian Avenet-Bradley and Laurence Avenet-Bradley.
Starring: Trista Robinson, Hannah Race, Paul Chirico, Marshal Hilton.
Horror, US 2018, 90mins, Cert 15.
Available on-demand/download from 20th July 2020 and on DVD from 3rd August by Second Sight Films.
“Retirement is death.”
When her grandfather dies unexpectedly, Alisha (Trista Robinson) inherits his house. Unable to afford the upkeep, she temporarily moves in to get it in a reasonable state to sell. But almost straight away there’s an eerie atmosphere, and things soon start to go bump in the night. Is the supernatural presence trying to guide her to hidden secrets buried in the crawlspaces of the house, or is there a more tangible threat lurking around the periphery of the property?
The modern urban setting is reminiscent of JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, (albeit with California instead of Japan) and the well-worn spooky haunted house tropes are familiar from an inordinate amount of genre ghost-fests. However, writer/director Brian Avenet-Bradley and his co-directing real-life partner Laurence have two aces up their sleeves which elevate the material, enabling it to deliver more than the sum of its initially clichéd parts.
Firstly, they execute with clinical precision half a dozen absolute doozy jump scares, several of which had even this semi-jaded old horror connoisseur yelping involuntarily. The first doesn’t arrive until nearly a third of the way into the running time, even though the measured preceding build-up is laden with portent indicators. Doors creak open, intercoms and pipes convey whispering voices, a creepy ornament twists it head before revealing an old photograph inside with a face scratched out, bathwater turns black, and, in a nice variation on the child’s ball bouncing down the staircase, a pet mouse’s exercise ball clatters and spins on its axis (without its owner inside). Whilst on the staircase, and trust me, I wouldn’t choose to linger there any longer than necessary, this is the location for the film’s most effective jump scare, a perfectly choreographed staging of sleight-of-hand misdirection not unlike the type of shock pulled off in-camera by Mario Bava in his literally titled SHOCK.
And then there’s the Avenet-Bradley’s second ace. Incidental details incrementally build to a disconcertingly and unexpectedly dark twisted third-act reveal.
I must mention ‘Twinkie’ the mouse (and Twinkie’s stand-in ‘Twixie’). At one point Alisha’s friend Steph (Hannah Grace) suggests letting Twinkie run free in order to lead them to where a secret is hidden. I half-hoped she would justify this theory with something as equally barmy as Dario Argento’s assertion in PHENOMENA that: “It’s perfectly normal for insects to be slightly telepathic.” Sadly no such justification was forthcoming.
ECHOES OF FEAR is a well-engineered ghost train ride. From the outside it appears to be housed in the back of an old funfair lorry with sunlight poking in through the holes in its walls. The ride initially meanders through a steady cheesy stream of the cinematic equivalents of rubber cobwebs and juddery animatronics before cranking up to some genuine gotcha seat-jumper scares and delivering a grim finale in amongst the crawlspaces. It’s by no means a game changer, but it left me with a wry smile on my face when I finally emerged back into the daylight and exited the ride.