"Echoes" has two things going for it: a desolate, uniquely foreboding setting and an initial plot hook involving sleep paralysis. Combining these two elements should have been a can't-miss scenario, rife with opportunities to build tension, scares and encroaching paranoia. Unfortunately, writer-director Nils Timm opts to go in a different, less interesting direction, one that puts its horror elements on the back burner for a shaggy, nonsensically developed supernatural murder-mystery involving characters who are the diametric opposite of brainy. The picture's desert locations and methodical pacing keep the viewer watching in the first half, but things unravel quickly from there before entirely self-destructing during the final act.
Aspiring Hollywood screenwriter Anna Parker (Kate French) is more than a little on edge, juggling an umpteenth revision of her film script with a nagging sleep disorder fraught with vivid nightmares. When her boyfriend, Paul (Steven Brand), invites her for a getaway to his sleek desert oasis in Joshua Tree, she believes it is just the trip she needs to relax and recharge. One day into their vacation, however, Paul is called back to Los Angeles on business. With plans to return in a few days, Paul agrees to let her stay by herself so she can have some quiet time to work on her screenplay. With no transportation and sketchy cell reception, Anna is helplessly vulnerablea fact that doesn't occur to her until she is having supernatural visions, becoming terrified by writing that mysteriously appears on her bedroom window, and stumbling upon surveillance footage that captures her committing murder while presumably still asleep.
For a film like "Echoes"or, really, any movie at allto work, the viewer must believe the characters onscreen and the world they inhabit while also buying into whatever stakes their inevitable conflicts present. When this unspoken contract between the filmmakers and audience is violated, it leads to frustration. Kate French is well-cast as Anna, able to keep interest from flagging when she is the only one in front of the camera for long chunks of the picture. What isn't so successful is the banal script she has found herself in, one that tosses the sleep paralysis angle out the window for a tale of spiritual gobbledygook and possible mental illness. Anna's own criminal actions (even if they are being perpetrated by a ghostly force beyond her control) are haphazardly swept under the rug to focus on a missing architect (Caroline Whitney Smith) and her blatantly predictable connection to Paul. Editing is a mess, changing from morning to dusk in the span of time it takes Anna to run out of the house, while a tacky CGI sandstorm that pops up during the climax plays like outtakes from 1999's "The Mummy
." In one of the opening scenes, Anna is told by her agent that her first script is bound to make or break her, and has to be great if she hopes to have longevity in the industry. With this in mind, it is time for Nils Timm to start worrying.