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The Black Waters of Echo's Pond, 2010

Suspicious Minds

Walking into The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond, I had no idea I’d be watching my second Greek fantasy movie of the week. The promotional materials for Clash of the Titans is all swords, sandals and CG, but depending on which poster you look at for Black Waters, it’s either a demon movie, a Grindhouse slasher-throwback, or the tardiest knock-off of I Know What You Did Last Summer, starring Robert Patrick.

This movie is all of those things—and, of course, a primer on Pan, the Greek man-goat and amateur flautist. Black Waters opens with an Exorcist-style flashback to 1927. A group of explorers uncovers instructions for building a magical board game that will open a door to the realm of the gods. They construct the game, of course, because they’re idiots, and unleash a nine-foot tall mythical creature with glowing red eyes and a love of creative murder. When the rich industrialist who funded the expedition shows up on his private island to see the game for himself, he encounters the last survivor of Pan’s rampage—who decides to kill himself and his benefactor, rather than spend another second with the beast. It’s a feeling I became very familiar with over the next ninety minutes.

Flash forward to present day, where a group of horny, attractive kids has chosen the same island as the site of a college reunion—which takes place, of course, in a house in the woods (I’m only guessing it’s a college reunion; based on the wide range of the actors’ ages—anywhere from about twenty-two to thirty-two—this could have been a reunion for The Real World/Road Rules Challenge). They meet Pete (Robert Patrick), a gun-totin’ good ol’ boy who takes care of the island and tells them a great ghost story about mysterious disappearances in the area. They laugh off the legend and enjoy an evening of drinking, pot-smoking, and pseudo-sexual encounters; don’t worry, I’m still writing about The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond—which in no way involves a hockey-mask-wearing zombie.

While rummaging through the basement, one of the kids finds a dusty old crate containing the board game of doom. Inevitably, the whole group gets roped into assembling it and ends up playing what can only be described as a cross between Monopoly, a Ouija board, and the kinkiest game of "Truth or Dare" you've ever imagined. Yes, in order to advance tokens on the board, the players must answer deeply personal questions honestly, and it turns out this gang of nine have been screwing each other and screwing each other over for years; there's so much revelation and betrayal in this small group of "friends" that I felt like I was watching an episode of Maury.

It's unclear to me whether or not it was the putting together of the game or the answering of the questions that gave Pan the ability to manifest, but soon the monster is whispering in people's ears and convincing them to chainsaw each other in half and rip out breast implants.

Oh, yeah, Black Waters is also kind of a torture porn movie. Seeing as it was made about three years ago, I can definitely understand the creators' desire to capitalize on a hot trend. But it's 2010, and the whole tied-up-screaming-and-bleeding thing just seems sad now--like seeing a New York movie from the 80s and catching a glimpse of the Twin Towers.

But not all is bleak at Echo's Pond. There are two reasons to actually watch this movie: James Duval and Danielle Harris. They play Rick and Kathy, respectively, the two characters who (almost) make it to the end of the film. Rick and Kathy hate each other; she's the over-achieving snarky do-gooder (who, at the game's behest, engages in some off-screen lesbianism with the group's party girl), and he's the slacker rich kid who happened to kill Kathy's brother in a drunk driving accident. Watching these actors spar as these deliciously imbalanced characters, I wondered if the screenwriters had pitched the movie as a demon thriller involving only two characters, but were forced to pad out the cast with a slew of underdeveloped eye candy; it certainly feels that way.

Duval's Rick is the stoner Bruce Campbell of the movie: a nice, hapless guy who ends up fighting demons in the woods; as his friends become possessed and start butchering each other, Rick dashes from scene to scene, trying to figure out a means of escape with a look on his face that says, "Dude, where's my car?" Actually, calling the rest of the cast his friends is misleading. None of them can stand Rick, mostly because of what happened with Kathy's brother. Which is why the movie's narrative trajectory--sloppy as it is--leads to one of the coolest, most frustrating endings ever.

I won't spoil it, but there's a groaner of an "It Was All a Dream" moment, followed by a really cool twist on that notion; this was followed by a colossal fumble that shows either A) the screenwriter didn't read (or write) the line of dialogue immediately preceding the end, or B) some hack executive stepped in and ordered the editing out of a brilliant ending in favor of a criminally insulting one.

I'll give director Gabriel Bologna some credit for overseeing some pretty nifty gore effects (four words: rake to the face!), and for a beautiful piece of misdirection the leads to the demise of a key character--who's accidentally thrust onto a chainsaw during an argument. But the movie fell apart due to editing. Its choppiness and incoherence, in my opinion, destroyed a potentially terrific little film.

I should note that I've still not seen a trailer for this movie. The filmmakers have been pimping it at horror conventions for years now, and I've seen and met a quarter of the cast at these shows. Co-writer Sean Clark was at HorrorHound Weekend a few weeks ago, with a little cardboard starburst hanging above his table that read, "In Theatres April 19th!". I didn't believe it until I checked Yahoo! Movies last Thursday.

This is a truly scrappy, grassroots picture; if you're into supporting that kind of thing, regardless of quality, then, by all means, seek Black Waters out. Otherwise, definitely catch it on video. Of the two Greek-myth-inspired flicks to catch this weekend (I can't believe I'm typing this), Clash of the Titans is your best bet, hands down.

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