Dances with Films Review: Echo Lake, by Sarah Brinks
Echo Lake is a solid entrant in the: “hipster deals with his problems by exiling himself and meeting strangers and gaining perspective” genre. I don’t mean to sound dismissive, Echo Lake is well-made and well-acted but it suffers from feeling very familiar. It reminded me a lot of the mumble-core movies made in the mid 2000’s. The plot for Echo Lake will be familiar. Will, played by Sam Zviblman) is a functioning alcoholic living with his girlfriend Erin and their dog Chewbacca. Will messes up one time too many and Erin and she kicks him out. Will’s father died the week prior and left him a cottage in Echo Lake, CA. Will’s relationship with his dad was bad and he wants to sell the cottage. He goes up there to scope it out for the realtor, inherits his dad’s dog Otis, meets a hippie brother and sister and manages to sort his life out.
I think one of the things that rubbed me the wrong way about the film is that it feels too easy. By the end of the film Will’s life is far from perfect but he sort of figures everything out quickly. I also didn’t really like the character of Will very much. He has anger problems but they appear inconsistently. He is also sort of an alcoholic but not destructive enough that he achieves real clarity.
One element of Echo Lake that I really loved was the set design of the cottage which is lovingly used throughout the film to great effect. There are delightful details like the instruction manual on how to turn on the water tank and fuse box, the games, the decor, the appliance and the cottage journals that chronicles the family’s activities over the years. I don’t know if they shot the film at someone’s real cottage but it felt very authentic and there were times when it felt so real you can imagine how the cottage would smell.
One element that I really hated was the character of the girlfriend Erin played by Christine Weatherup. Erin is completely one dimensional. She is a mean, lazy nag from the start of the film to the end. There were moments when they showed that she wasn’t always a horrible person but those moments were punctuated by her saying things to Will like, “You deserved this but I love you.” When she kicks him out my first thought was that he dodged a bullet. Ultimately Will loves her and can see the good in her but as a viewer I was only shown a terrible girlfriend and a terrible person so I did not want them to stay together. Weatherup, to her credit, does her best with this awful part.
The film is well-made and the acting is solid. Even though I didn’t like Will as a character Zvibleman played him well and was often times charming and likeable. The Echo Lake region is beautifully shot. The magnificence of the scenery is used to its full effect and helps the film a lot. There is a scene when Will makes a long walk to a crater and it is really stunningly shot. It genuinely feels like a moment that would make you rethink some of your life choices. Moments like that make the laziness of some of the writing stick out even more than it should. This is a first time writing and directing effort for Jody McVeigh-Schultz who has made a career as an editor. There is clear potential in Echo Lake but ultimately it falls short mostly due to one-dimensional characters and lazy story telling. The two best characters are the hippie siblings Luke and Christie. They are important in moving the plot forward but are used sparingly enough that they maintain a level of mystery and feel rounded in a way Will and Erin never do.
Echo Lake is a solid first effort by McVeigh-Schultz but isn’t a home run. I would be interested to see what he makes next and am particularly interested in what his DP/producer Andy Rydzewski does next. The photography in the film is very well handled and really increased my enjoyment of the film. If you get a chance to see Echo Lake it is worth 86 minutes of your time.