Written by: Michael Berenson, Gabriel Bolonga, and Sean Clark
Directed by: Gabriel Bolonga
Starring: Danielle Harris, Robert Patrick, and James Duval
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Where your deepest secrets are revealed.
If youíve been following the development of The Black Waters of Echoís Pond since it was first announced way back in 2008, then you know the film actually debuted in film festivals the following year and even snuck its way into theaters in 2010. Since then, however, itís sat on a shelf collecting dust, which is the sort of fate thatís almost impossible to outrun, especially when you consider just how many films with cult star power (this one boasts Danielle Harris and Robert Patrick) are released every year. As such, itís easy to write this one off as a complete dud, but I guess the good news here is that The Black Waters of Echoís Pond is more decent than expected, though Iíll admit that could owe to my setting the bar pretty low.
By no means is it revolutionary, which is obvious from the get-go: a prologue set in 1920s Turkey introduces us to a mysterious Pagan board game that somehow invokes Pan, and we quickly learn that itís bad news when everyone involved in its discovery winds up dead. Flash forward to present day, where a bunch of friends have gathered at a huge, Victorian mansion for a getaway vacation. One of them stumbles into the basement and uncovers the ancient board game, and the group canít resist giving it a spin. The game begins innocently enough, but it begins to have a creeping, insidious effect on the players by conjuring up their repressed resentment towards each other.
From there, itís just another slasher, only this one doesnít feature a central maniac; instead, itís infused with a possession angle that finds the demonic Pan inhabiting the group and inciting them to violence against each other (just in case the ďvacationing kids find an evil Middle East relicĒ logline didnít scream Evil Dead loudly enough). The splatter sequences are surely the high pointóthereís some nasty business with chainsaws and whatnot that give way to some fun gore gags that try their best to compensate for the nonsense youíll have to endure to get to that point. Most of the carnage doesnít begin in earnest until around the halfway point, which is a double-edged sword if there ever was one; on the one hand, the filmís setup demands that it actually has to feature some semblance of character development. On the other, itís one-note development thatís mostly concerned with whoís been banging who during the course of these relationships.
In fact, most of the group is harboring so much resentment that itís hard to believe they're still friends: two of the buddies are arguing over a job promotion that might have involved backstabbing, while the token promiscuous blonde (Mircea Monroe) admits her desire to jump the bones of two other guys, both of whom are spoken for (by a pair of twin sisters played by Elisa and Electra Avellan, aka The Crazy Babysitter Twins from Grindhouse), so thereís all sorts of cattiness and bickering hanging in the air. The central conflict revolves around Kathy (Danielle Harris) and Rick (James Duval, who seemingly raided his Independence Day wardrobe), a couple of childhood friends who became estranged after Kathyís brother died in a drunk driving accident.
Itís really a bunch of melodramatic junk painted in the broadest, thinnest strokes that donít leave a lot of room for nuance in the performancesónot that I think there was ever a chance for that since most of the actors are pretty stiff. The twins are especially cringe-inducing, while one of the guys keeps slipping in and out of an accent; even Robert Patrick just sort of half-heartedly strolls in as the local, landowning hick that rents the place out, and he acts more as a name for the marquee than as a functioning character that has any impact on the actual proceedings. In addition to the familiar on-screen talent, the film also counts Harry Manfrendini among its behind-the-scenes ranks, though I think he's started to tread the line between legendary and infamous at this point. To his credit, he's not ripping off one of his older scores, though maybe that would have been preferable to the generic clangs and screeches here.
Director Gabriel Bolonga attempts to impose some slick, atmospheric style by hovering about the spooky mansion and the moody landscapes, but, between its overcooked line deliveries and gory outbursts, The Black Waters of Echoís Pond doesnít exactly lend itself to a slow-burn, moody approach. Instead, itís often a herky-jerky, episodic experience; by now, weíre used to slashers that proceed with a one-by-one mentality that finds a way to seclude hapless half-wits so they can become mincemeat, and Black Waters takes that to an extreme. Characters conveniently flit in and out so as to just miss whatever carnage is occurring while theyíre out skinny dipping or engaging their lesbian curiosity, so none of them are clued into the supernatural shenanigans until itís too late. Weirdly, Harris and Duval are sidelined for a good chunk of the movie, as the latter actually gets kicked out of the house when the rest of the group revolts and finally decides that they donít really like him after all (and itís not like he proves them wrongóimmediately after the eviction, heís caught peeping on one of the girls).
The Black Waters of Echo Pond is fun in a dopey sort of way and generally knows what type of film it isóitís definitely not a horror-fried Big Chill that ruminates on friendship like Dreamcatcher or The Corridor. It is, however, a pretty tacky soap opera with chainsaws, shotguns, and a hairy goat creature. You might say you donít come across that sort of thing every day, but that would be overstating the filmís novelty. At its core, it is the same sort of movie that ardent fans have encountered on a weekly basis while scouring store shelves for the past few years, so itís not like its niche wasnít filled during its long journey to home video. That journey finally ends this week, as Anchor Bay is bringing it to Blu-ray with a perfunctory release that only features an alternate ending as the lone extra, but the presentation is solid, particularly the lossless soundtrack that scatters sounds throughout the mix. The past couple of years have been kind to long-delayed movies that lived up to enormous hype, but The Black Waters of Echo's Pond is sort of at the other end of the spectrum since it's not as terrible as its lengthy wait might suggest. Rent it!
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