November 01, 2005


If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at allPlease. Somebody. Make it stop. SIGAW (The Echo) is a new horror movie from the Philippines, which landed on my doorstep a while back and I held off on reviewing it because, as my mama always said, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. I wanted to like this movie - I really, really did. Besides the fact that the folks who made it send me a DVD for free, it's got some things going for it. The cinematography is dark, dank and damp and the sound design is unusually good for low budget feature. It's also got something on its mind (the evils of family life) which puts it in the small percentile of horror movies that want to be about something more than simple shocks.

Marvin has scrimped and saved and finally moved away from home into the only apartment he can afford: a one-bedroom fallout shelter in bleakville. His new building is so dank that mold grows on your shoulders while you wait for the elevator and the oppresive atmosphere isn't helped by the constantly fighting family down the hall. There's also the battered wife who keeps knocking on strangers' doors asking them to look after her daughter while her abusive husband bounces her off the walls.

Things are not, of course, as they seem and before long Marvin finds himself embroiled in one of those hellish real estate scenarios that afflict so many people who buy new homes in movies: can't move, but got a ghost haunting me.

Except for a couple of bits of really awkward acting here and there (and they're thankfully bits - few and far between) SIGAW is a decent, solid movie. The problem is, if it had come out in 1998, before THE RING, it would have rocked your socks. Coming out seven years later it feels like a retread. A tired retread. Ghostly little kids - check. Female spooks with long black hair - check. Growing feeling of dread - check. Cranky elevators - check. Clutching hands coming around doorframes - check.

Horror movies often attract first time filmmakers because it doesn't take a big budget to induce shivery chills. You just need to be a dab hand with the editing to do that. And horror movies are marketable everywhere. But don't any of these directors want to be original? I mean, after THE RING, THE RING TWO, THE RING VIRUS, NIGHTMARE, REC, SCISSORS, JU-ON 1 & 2, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, DARK WATER, KAKASHI, THE PHONE, SHUTTER, UNBORN BUT FORGOTTEN, INTO THE MIRROR, WICKED GHOST, SHIKOKU, ONE MISSED CALL, HORROR HOTLINE...BIG HEAD MONSTER, PULSE, R-POINT, THREE EXTREMES and on and on, this whole "long-haired-dead-wet-chick" trope is dead. Done. Finished.

Try telling that to first time filmmakers, however. Over on Stauffen.de you can see a trailer for KIDAN which has, naturally, a possessed kid and a spooky looking woman with long black hair (who looks exactly like the VCD cover art for SHIKOKU) and a trailer for PRAY and BOOTH which promise more of the same. My local Blockbuster features dozens of DVDs of Japanese TV series featuring tales of the spookernatural loaded with all the stale visual tropes of J-horror movies. More J-horror is coming down the turnpike. When will this stop? Must we destroy the planet to save ourselves from this flood J-horror knock-off movies?

My question to all filmmakers is: don't you want to be original? Doesn't it bother your creative sensibilities that you're humping the corpse of a trend that flatlined years ago? There can be good J-horror styled movies, and some of the movies listed above are movies I like, but it's over. It's done. Nail shut the coffin and shovel on the dirt. Bring flowers once a year and trim the weeds, but don't make another J-horror movie. There's no surer way to put your audience to sleep in 2005 than to include a shot of a dead-wet-long-haired-girl-in-a-white-dress - it's a Pavlovian response. We can't help it.

I can't recommend SIGAW. I wish I could. The filmmakers seem like nice people, they put a lot of hard work into their movie, and there's a lot of quality on display in the production values. But at the end of the day, all their hard work is in service to a creatively bankrupt idea. J-horror is dead. Someone, anyone, please get it to lay down and stop moving.

November 1, 2005 at 09:38 AM in Reviews | Permalink


I agree 100%. Saw Sigaw at the Screamfest festival and it was as if they were checking off items from the J-Horror handbook as they went. Certain scenes exist in the film solely to do a specific "Asian horror thing", as if the film needed to reach a certain quota to make the cut.

Posted by: CuseBoy | Nov 1, 2005 10:46:08 AM

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