Sunday, May 18, 2014

Women In Underwear And Dead-Eyed Psychopaths: Echo Dr. Is Very Typical Modern Horror.

The Good: Good concept, Actually attempts to create complicated characters.
The Bad: Stiff acting, Predictable plot progression
The Basics: Echo Dr. plays to similar horror concepts as The Purge as it follows one family’s nightmare trapped within their own house.

It is a rare thing these days when I take in a film in which I am familiar with the works of none of the performers. In fact, the last time I watched a film filled with complete unknowns was when I watched the indie science fiction/fantasy film The Snow Queen (reviewed here!). That trend was broken today when I caught Echo Dr.. Echo Dr. features John Pirkis in a secondary role and while I had heard of one of the films he was in, the only work I had seen that he was a part of was a two part episode of Doctor Who where he provided a voiceover for an obscure alien device. In other words, Echo Dr. was a tough sell for theaters and distributors to want to pick up as there was nothing in the way of star power driving the film. Arguably, Echo Dr. only managed to (finally) get a theatrical release based on the success of sleeper horror film The Purge. Similarly low-budget, but without even a recognizable performer to carry the look-and-see first adapters, Echo Dr. is yet another film where a family is tormented by an intruder in their home.

In the case of Echo Dr., the indie film market continues its trend of making films that actually have themes deeper than the studio-produced blockbuster films. While the theme of Echo Dr. is nothing new, writer-director Patrick Ryan Sims makes it feel pretty fresh. Echo Dr. carries a long-held tradition in science fiction of illustrating the disastrous consequences of technological advancement. Gene Rodenberry would be proud (considering how much of Star Trek was based on a fear of technology overrunning humanity) that Sims is carrying on the tradition he beat into the ground, though the theme has been done to death in current cinema. Following on the heels of Transcendence (reviewed here!) and Android Cop (reviewed here!), Echo Dr. illustrates the way artificial intelligence and law enforcement could easily be transformed from a beneficial force into a nightmarish scenario that destroys those it vows to protect.

Mike is a developer working in a planned community who has spent his daughter’s college fund on an investment that went south. His relationship with his wife, Karen, is strained, but Mike, Karen, Jessica, and Mike’s son live together in a nice house where they are frequently visited by Aldridge, the developer of the community. Aldridge continues to use Mike to try to sell investors on the community. Most of the investors are security-conscious and Aldridge has developed an artificial intelligence that has been retasked to act as a security guard. The android puts Karen on edge when he does things like enter the house to deliver her the mail, which he does silently. Even though Mike asks Aldridge to dial back Dell, the A.I., Dell continues to prowl around the community, which provides moments of comfort given the gated community’s frequent power outages.

One night, during a power outage while Mike is playing pool with a friend/potential investor, Dell shows up and, mistaking the visitor for a threat, shoots and kills him. Mike and Karen incapacitate Dell, while getting Jessica and their son to a more secure room. But in trying to keep Dell out of the house and getting Aldridge to show up to deactivate the android, Mike, Karen and Jessica find themselves in consistent peril as Dell returns again and again to try to subdue the threat it perceives.

Given how it takes half an hour into the eighty minute film before anything actually happens, one has to wonder why Echo Dr. was made into a full-length feature film as opposed to a short. The film does not have enough depth or complexity to carry even the eighty minutes of its running time, though Sims makes a passing attempt to make the film into more than just a generic “trapped in the house” horror film. Mike and Karen are emotionally distant, but working on their relationship, which allows for a sense of conflict between the two that gives the two a somewhat compelling starting point in the film. Unfortunately, it is a strain that is not fully committed to and as a result, Sims sees fit to put in multiple scenes of Jordan Savage (Karen) hanging out in her bra and panties, enticing Mike into sex scenes that are only implied.

The level of tension in Echo Dr. rises abruptly and only after a long period of the film boring the crap out of the viewer. The elements that come into play for the conflict between man and machine, investor and industrialist, father and daughter, are all adequately seeded early in the movie, so the plot development pretty much writes itself. There is nothing truly surprising in Echo Dr. and for a film trading on tension, that is a death knell.

The acting in Echo Dr. is largely stiff. While Johnathan Hurley, who plays Dell and could be a shoo-in to replace Raising Hope’s Lucas Neff on any project should that need ever arise, is appropriately stiff as the dispassionate android, that Dane Bowman (Mike) seems off-put on almost every scene he is in is unfortunate. Bowman and Savage have absolutely no on-screen chemistry and Claire Gordon-Harper’s stilted delivery of melodramatic, teen-angst-filled lines is not going to make Echo Dr. her breakout role.

In fact, Echo Dr. is unlikely to be anyone’s breakout anything: it lacks spark, zest, originality or enough substance to want to watch more than once (or recommend to viewers to see even that first time).

For other works with robot characters, please check out my reviews of:
Bicentennial Man
Robocop (2014)


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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