Movie Review: The Black Waters of Echo's Pond

How many horror stories begin with a group of friends, alone at night? How many board games begin the same way? If the comparison seems absurd, consider that the terrifying forces of The Exorcist are unleashed by a single child, playing an innocent game. Now, imagine the lengths of evil that would ensue when a group of adults set more sinister pieces in motion. Relationships are ripped apart - and so are bodies.

This is the terror that lies beneath The Black Waters of Echo's Pond, a devious play on the haunted house and serial killer genres. Ignore the faux-vintage, Pan-infested preamble and the promotion suggesting a Jumanji-with-gore creature feature; the film is a clever twist on blood-and-guts slashers. The base elements are all finely executed - a self-absorbed group interested only in sex, drugs & alcohol; a curiously abandoned house, spirited away from all authorities and civilization; an even more curious assortment of sharp and blunt objects; and a very respectable body count. Only this time, the victims are running not from a masked madman, but from themselves. Possessed by an increasingly cruel truth-or-dare game, they become their own killers, transformed into beings of pure jealousy. These are no green-eyed monsters either; when the players challenge their romantic vows, closest friendships, deepest fears and even racial tensions, they are literally consumed by a vicious, unrelenting rage.

That's a tall order to execute - but due to the strength of its cast, it all works. Genre stalwarts Robert Patrick (T-1000), James Duval (Frank the Bunny) & Danielle Harris (of Halloweens old and new) lead a cadre of up-and-coming character actors, including Robert Rodriguez' prodigal nieces Electra & Elise Avellan (the "babysitter twins" from Grindhouse), neo-scream queen Mircea Monroe (survivor of direct-to-video and Sci-Fi Channel productions) and Nick Mennell (non-survivor of the only memorable murder of the Friday the 13th remake). Each spins a familiar one-dimensional archetype - prude, slut, jock, jerk, crazy old man - into a fleshed out character (Duval, Harris) or over-the-top parody (Patrick, both Avellans). Should any of this fail to interest you, you can sink your teeth into the unsung hero of the horror genre, a chainsaw.

Given the grumbling of some genre fans, you'd think every major horror film released these days was an empty remake. The Black Waters of Echo's Pond proves modern horror has some originality and life left in it - and it just might scare you out of yours.

The Black Waters of Echo's Pond opens this Friday.