Reviewed by Matt Fini
Starring Danielle Harris, James Duval, Robert Patrick
Directed by Gabriel Bologna
There’s bound to be some lingering resentment and jealousy amongst any long-standing group of friends. Be it a great job or a beautiful girlfriend, it’s guaranteed that a close personal acquaintance has thought “why him and not me?” at one time or another. Human beings are a complex species, and while it can be disheartening to consider that we’re not always as happy for others as we say, deep-seated bitterness remains a prominent part of human nature regardless.
The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond takes this premise and attempts to explore it though a mysterious old board game which seems designed to bring out the worst in each player. When a group of friends gather on an old island off the coast of Maine, the game is unearthed and immediately played. It doesn’t take long before the seemingly stable relationships begin crumbling, giving way to murder and madness, which quickly becomes the order of the evening.
The film sports one of the most amusingly mean-spirited games ever played: Each roll of the dice brings with it a request for either a startling revelation or an incendiary action that immediately places the player at odds with his or her friends. Repressed desires are confessed, mercy is denied, and people are quickly exposed as being far more insidious than imagined. Our characters are compelled to keep playing, even after several of their feelings are decimated at the hands of this merciless entertainment, ensuring that no one gets out unscathed. It’s a game that can’t be won, only played.
And as it’s played, it shows its players what they want to see. One guy is pushed to the brink of insanity after confessing jealousy over his friend who recently advanced beyond him at the same job. The game reveals that his friend really did steal some of his sales leads in order to close a massive sale, which sends his harbored resentment boiling over the edge, setting him on the path to murder.
And this is where the film really begins. The game affects the varying group of friends differently; some cheat on their beaus while others become knife-wielding psychopaths. Imagine a supernatural version of Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Neve where everyone is running around committing murder. The primary reason for murder isn’t money, however, but rather demonic possession. The possessed ones go on the prowl for the unaffected although this “game” has a tendency to claim anyone at any time, meaning all bets are off and no one is immune to its influences.
Director Gabriel Bologna isn’t breaking any new ground here, but he demonstrates a decent eye for horror, staging some fleeting but memorable moments throughout. From quick glimpses of a horned demon to a clawed hand reaching out for a swimmer’s ankle beneath the surface of Echo’s Pond, there are a few creepy bits scattered throughout that really boost the atmosphere. There’s also the intermittent appearance of a half-human/half-goat creature that gives the film a strong sense of fun. None of these aforementioned bits figure into the main story with any real importance, but they lend distinction to the proceedings.
Credit this one for trying to establish its characters before putting them through the paces. It might take a bit too long to get going, but the writers make an earnest attempt at creating colorful, yet believable people to run the horror gamut. The excessively large cast might lead to some awkward disappearances (people wander off for large chunks of time, despite making a quick trip to a laundry room or kitchen), but Black Waters deserves props for trying to make the viewer care. It also earns points for unpredictability. We’re never sure who’s going to make it through this bloodbath, and almost every cast member looks like a prime candidate at one point or another. It’s also interesting how the story makes the most seemingly well-adjusted characters either the most dangerous or ineffective.
But there are some issues with the performances that prevent this from reaching its full potential. In one of the leads, producer Arcadiy Golubovich proves that he should never have stepped in front of the camera. The man is no actor, and he’s incapable of staging a believable response – most jarring once his character finds himself pursued by two knife-wielding maniacs. The Babysitter twins, Electra and Elise Avellan, are on hand as well, succeeding only in grating on the nerves. Thankfully, genre vets Danielle Harris and Robert Patrick are on hand to balance out some of the dreadful performances offered here. Sadly, Patrick’s screen time is limited to intermittent vignettes of him wandering around the island in the dark.
Another problem is the way in which the story chooses to conclude. It’s not quite the cop-out others have derided it as being, but it remains a dismal choice on the part of the writers – one that feels both typical and obvious in this day and age of genre filmmaking. The script is careful not to ‘over-explain’ the rules of the game or its origins – a welcome decision since ambiguity is a lost art on today’s audiences – which makes the clichéd ‘twist’ all the more groan inducing.
On the exploitation front there are some satisfying bits of mayhem, including dental torture, bodily dismemberment, and a vicious chainsaw murder tossed in for good measure. The gore isn’t forced or excessive, instead striking the proper balance between nasty and fun. In terms of skin it comes up a bit short, and it’s only a detriment because it spends a good amount of time talking a big game. Characters contemplate debauchery such as wife swapping, lesbian mistresses (which happens – just entirely off camera), and orgies, although in the end it’s only Mircea Monroe who bares all. Much ado is made about her character’s ‘enhanced’ breasts, which is odd considering that they look plenty real once we get a glimpse of them.
While The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond is no classic, it is refreshing to have a rough around the edges independent horror film in theaters. Hopefully the trend will continue so genre fans will have more choices than whatever diluted remake Hollywood has most recently produced. With the right expectations this is an enjoyable marriage of the supernatural and the psychological – a nifty little genre flick that manages to entertain despite its shortcomings.
3 out of 5
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