Sometimes it isn’t about bad things happening to good people. Sometimes bad things happen to bad people that are out of whack with how bad they are. And sometimes it’s even more complex — in the real world, some people waver on the spectrum, hopefully more good than bad, but to paraphrase Shakespeare, “the evil men do lives on after them.” It echoes, if you will, an unnoticed wave that still occasionally sucks the innocent under. Or maybe they’re not that innocent.
In Echoes of Violence, writer/director Nicholas Woods focuses on that casual evil. Opening on Sedona realtor Alex (Heston Horwin), Woods catches a snippet of typical real estate hustle when Alex hears gunshots and stumbles across a killing in progress. He’s unironically a good guy with a gun, turning his attention to the apparent victim as the would-be killer stumbles back into the brush.
Though covered in blood, Marakya (Michaella Russell) only has one mark on her, where the killer had injected opiates. She doesn’t want the police involved, because she’s an illegal immigrant. Then Woods rewinds and starts telling the story from another point of view, clouding our judgment over just how bad the “bad guy” is. That’s not to say there aren’t clear villains; there are. They just don’t see themselves that way, and if you were to encounter immigration lawyer Anthony (Taylor Flowers) in any other setting, you might find him smarmy but well-meaning. He certainly thinks so.
This isn’t a film reveling in violence, though it certainly has a few violent sequences. For the most part, it’s strangely calm, as real effective evil would be. It’s filled with characters who are changed by violence done to them. Former Marine Kellin (Chase Cargill) was quite good in combat, and it’s not quite PTSD that troubles him now. Haunted by his evaluation of his past, in another life Kellin would have been labeled a hero. And the driving engine of the violence in this film — sex trafficking — is treated disturbingly matter-of-factly, with Woods’ script acknowledging that it’s prevalent, and most people would rather look somewhere else than see who might be complicit.
The script also does a great job of not beating the audience over the head with plot points. In one scene, Marakya asks a blunt and odd question that takes at least half an hour to pay off. It comes off as rude, and then leads to an “aaaaahhhhhh…” Woods plays with his film’s chronology in a way that echoes Tarantino, though he uses fewer squibs and gun battles. Echoes of Violence aims to provoke thought, not just provoke.
With that tight construction, he needs tight actors who can play with ambiguity. In addition to Flowers and Cargill mastering subtext, Russell runs the film without being a stereotypical bad-ass action heroine. She’s not magically good at violence; she’s driven and still more by pain than anger (though anger is there). As our initial anchor character, Horwin plays decent without being entirely hapless. Sometimes it veers into comic relief, but never in an exaggerated way. He’s caught up, trying to do the right thing, but out of his depth and he knows it.
On the surface, Echoes of Violence riffs off of standard B-Movie/Amazon Prime revenge thriller paradigms, but for the most part stays much more realistic and thus digs deeper. It’s another Cinequest 2021 offering that only disappoints me that I can’t sit with an audience and hear the buzz in the lobby afterward.
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