A psychological thriller, "Echo" follows Darren (Jason Lee Boyson), an icy hitman simultaneously trying to have a normal relationship with his girlfriend, Theresa (Caitlin Rose). What happens when this cold and calculating killer crosses the path of an equally sadistic serial killer known as the Angel of Mercy (Michael D. Burger)?
A film from San Antonio-based Live Wire Films and writer/director Mark Cantu, "Echo" is an ambitious and involving psychological thriller with enough reverential nods to other legendary crime dramas to please virtually any fan of crime dramas.
Cantu nods but never winks. That is, while throughout the film Cantu tosses in a tip of the hat to such classics as "L.A. Confidential," "Psycho," "Memento" and "Miller's Crossing" among others, Cantu clearly has an original vision that never gets lost in the mix.
One would think that a director putting together such a modestly budgeted independent film would steer clear of camera tricks, excessive stylistic touches and complex scene set-ups...not Cantu. While there's no denying that there are moments in "Echo" that scream out "low budget," Cantu has stuck to his artistic guns and put together a surprisingly satisfying and anxiety inducing thriller.
A good portion of the credit for the film's emotional satisfaction lies in the performance of Caitlin Rose, a marvel as the initially unsuspecting girlfriend who grows weary of her uncertain life. As Theresa, Rose serves up a performance that is at once vulnerable and sensitive, inviting and frightening. As the film winds down, it becomes nearly impossible to not care about her welfare.
While Jason Lee Boyson does a fine job as the increasingly wavering yet cold and calculating hit man, the film's slightly tinny sound mix doesn't do him any favors by elevating his already higher pitched voice to the point that his cold calculations occasionally come off as more white and nerdy. This issue seems more a product of the film's modest budget than a performance issue, and Boyson's ability to project the humanity within his very inhumane profession makes his hit man seem almost disturbingly normal.
As the arguably much more disturbing killer, Michael D. Burger possesses a rather striking resemblance to the notorious "BTK Killer," Dennis Lynn Rader. With this image firmly planted in my mind, "Echo" became an increasingly haunting film as the story wound its way through the lives of these two men and those who crossed their paths.
While "Echo" certainly struggles at times to overcome its modest budget, this isn't really a surprise. What is surprising, perhaps, is how often the film rises above these challenges and brings to mind recent flicks by the likes of Tony Scott or at least the kind of film Scott would put out if he had a few thousand bucks rather than a few million to work with for a film.
Cantu was invited to attend the filmmakers' market at this weekend's Cannes Film Festival by York Entertainment, which has purchased "Echo" for video distribution later this year.
If Cantu can manage to create an involving and entertaining psychological thriller like "Echo" on a modest indie budget, one can't help but look forward to the day when he gets the opportunity at a bigger budget flick.
For more information on "Echo," visit the Live Wire Myspace page.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic