Black Waters of Echo's Pond (2010)
A Warning to the Curious: Don’t let the would-be evocative title fool you into thinking that THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND is anything other than a routine (nay, outdated) splatter film. Should you venture into the theatre expecting mythical mysticism, you will have only yourself to blame as you savor the crushing disappointment that will inevitably descend upon your soul, shattering your naive optimism like the fragile skull of a victim battered by jagged rock. There is violence, gore, and exploitation sleaze aplenty, but precious little in the way of suspense or actual fear. Truly the most horrifying thing about the film is that, according to its poster, it won two festival awards (Best Horror Feature at the Orlando Freak Show Horror Film Festival and Best Feature Audience Award at the 2009 HorrorHound Weekend Film Festival) – which leads one to contemplate the truly astounding implication: You mean there were even worse film playing at those festivals?
Anyway, before the crushing disappointment comes the crushing boredom, as BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND features one of the more lengthy and pointless set-ups in recent memory. It’s very much THE EVIL DEAD by way of THE EXORCIST: An archeological expedition in Turkey digs up an ancient Greek artifact. (What is a Greek artifact doing in Turkey, you may well ask, but don’t expect an answer.) The archeological team takes the artifact to an isolated cabin, where decades later a group of friends out for a weekend in the woods find it, unleashing an evil supernatural forces that takes possession, turning them into demonic killers.
The twist, if you can call it that, is that the artifact – related to the Roman god Pan, as in “pandemonium” – is a set of instructions, which the expedition used to recreate a “ritual” device that suspiciously resembles a contemporary board game. (It is one of BLACK WATERS OF ECHO POND’s more droll absurdities that a 1920s archaeological team, working from an ancient Greek text, craft what is essentially a Dungeons-&-Dragons version of Truth-or-Dare.) With nothing better to do, the characters play, turning over cards that prompt them to reveal dark and dangerous secrets that bring simmering hostilities to the surface, turning the friends against each other.
This may sound like fertile ground for a demented psychological horror film, but the so-called submerged secrets are not so submerged after all; pretty much everything is so close to the surface that you wonder why the game was need as a catalyst at all. It hardly helps that the inner secrets all play like a 14-year-old boy’s masturbation fantasy, recycled from the letter’s page of Penthouse magazine. The result feels like like watching each character’s inner demon emerge than like watching a contest to prove who is the biggest asshole – which turns out to be such a close race that you lose track of whom you would like to see die first.
When the bloodshed finally erupts, the effects are handled with professional competency but little inspiration. Rather than the hard-edge, grueling approach of many contemporary horror films, BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND opts for the old-fashioned, sudden sting – which is over almost as soon as it begins. It’s almost quaint in its utter effectiveness. Easily the most impressive effect is the computer-generated blackened eyes of the possessed, which clear up with eerie efficiency as they expire.
Unlike the splatter films of the ’70s and ’80s (clearly a major inspiration), BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND benefits from contemporary advances in cinema technology, which enable even low-budget filmmakers to craft something that looks halfway decent in terms of cinematography. Particularly impressive is the early, fog-bound sequence of a boat approaching the isolated island, the de-saturated color deliberately evoking the atmosphere of old-fashioned black-and-white horror movies. Too bad the film did not stick to this approach throughout.
The only other interesting feature is that the multi-ethnic cast is so rich in diversity that the two white chicks come across like the token minority representatives. Danielle Harris retains a certain appeal, but her presence here only reminds us that appearing as a childhood actress in a HALLOWEEN sequel or two is no springboard to a respctable adult career. Robert Patrick wanders on screen long enough to grab a bottle of booze (presumably to drown the career disappointment one must feel after descending from TERMINATOR 2 to this). He also tells one of those scary backwoods stories that is supposed to set up the horror that follows, yet curiously it bears little or no relation to the prologue depicting the Turkey archeological dig. Oh, and the Great God Pan himself walks on screen once or twice, just to let you know that his evil supernatural influence is causing the violence, not conventional psychosis.
One other note: the closing credits include thank-yous to several high-profile horror magainzes and websites. You have to wonder why they would be encouraging this sort of thing, when they could be doing something respectable like – oh, I don’t know – reviewing gay porn.
THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND (2009; release date: April 9, 2010). Directed by Gabriel Bologna. Written by Gabriel Bologna, Michael Berenson and Sean Clarke. Cast: Robert Patrick, Danielle Harris, Sean Lawlor, James Duval, Nick Mennell.