“Echo Lake” is a wonderful example of the distinct differences between ‘studio’ and ‘indie’ cinema.
Bittersweet, instead of sentimental, and with a leisurely pace that’s straight out of ‘mumblecore’, writer/director Jody McVeigh-Schultz’s film has a haunting edge and a narrative that, while we’ve covered such ground before, feels fresh and original.
Will Baxter (Sam Zvibleman) is what might have happened to Charlie Brown as a grown up, the very definition of a schlub. Moody, self-centred and oblivious to others around him, he’s ripe material for a film about redemption.
After being dumped by his girlfriend Erin (Christine Weatherup), and you won’t blame her, he travels up to his late father’s cabin in Echo Lake (his inheritance), intent on fixing it up and selling it on.
However, as so often happens in such places, the ghosts of his past aren’t far behind him, and over the course of the film, he begins to re-evaluate his plans and his life.
In a way, the title is appropriate, as Will is haunted by echoes of his own past. The landscapes of California play a large part in the film’s ability to contain a personal drama within an epic canvas, beautifully captured by cinematographer Andrew Rydzewski, who also co-produced the film.
But beyond that metaphor, there lies a deeper, personal story about forgiveness (both of others and yourself). Will has never been able to reconcile with his father, with whom he shared a rocky history, while his own tendency to drink has destroyed his relationship with girlfriend Erin.
Its a film about relationships, but has the guts to treat the material with a maturity and sensitivity that, were this a generic film, would resolve itself over the course of a dozen ‘meet cutes’ and the cliche-riddled ‘love conquers all’ motif.
The introduction of a potential love interest, in the form of Jillian Leigh (excellent) as Christie, gives all the signals of the ‘pixie dream girl,’ yet ultimately goes in another direction, as much a narrative drive as character development.
Also refreshing is Christine Weatherup as Erin, a wonderfully rounded portrait of a woman who can see the potential in her man, but also the worst.
Their relationship is told in flashback fragments, revealing more and more, the rot that was festering under the floorboards of their seemingly sturdy partnership.
“You had it coming, but I love you,” she states, upon the reveal of another of Will’s drink related screw ups.
Such parts are rare for females in films these days and Weatherup capitalises on this brilliantly. If this were a studio film, she would be relegated to the sidelines, a minor character, called upon to reinforce the lead’s need to change. Yet, as played by Weatherup, she is no victim, nor is she the angel on Will’s shoulder. She is strong and intelligent, her faith in Will both her biggest flaw and her greatest quality.
Its an almost film stealing performance, were it not for Sam Zvibleman.
As Will, Zvibleman has a lot of emotional baggage to carry on those small shoulders. With his long hair and shrugged body posture, he looks like a surfer without a surfboard, or a skater with no wheels. His portrayal of Will as a near functional alcoholic (he even carries a breathalyser in his car to monitor just how much he can legally drink), brings a quiet empathy, deceptively restrained at first, yet, paying off big time by the film’s final scenes.
And its this quiet resolution, as satisfying and it is ambiguous, that is “Echo Lake’s” trump card. No grandiose speeches, no declarations of love, no rush to the airport. As in life itself, the real drama happens in small rooms, on cell phones, or through the simple notion of acceptance of one’s own short comings.
Taken on such terms, the film will divide an audience. There are no CGI sidekicks, or robotic trucks drop kicking each other. That audience is already well catered for.
This is a film for an audience interested in character and story. A truthful portrait of how redundant our grudges from the past can be.
Stick with the film and you’ll cry like a baby.