"Echoes of Innocence" is really a fascinating piece of film work—not because it's an incredible movie, but because of what it represents.
The movie, which opens in select theaters across the country Friday, focuses on Sarah (Sara Simmonds), a high school senior nicknamed "the Virg" because of her well-known commitment to chastity. Accompanying that commitment is an obsession with the "Virgin Maid" Joan of Arc. Like Joan, Sarah has visions.
Those visions revolve around two high school boys, both of whom are interested in Sarah, but for different reasons. Dave (Jack McDorman) wants to profile her for a school paper story; Alec (Matt Vodvarka) has less honorable intentions.
The movie unfolds in a roundabout way, telling us why and how Sarah arrived at her chastity vow, and trying to keep us on the hook as to what will happen. Will Sarah fall for Dave and test her vow? Will Alec commit a crime? Will Sarah make peace with her visions?
"Echoes of Innocence" plays like a Lifetime movie: It's got the Harlequin title, traces of transparent acting, and melodrama throughout. Yet, it also displays some genuinely good cinematography, a good score and some chilling moments.
The melodrama is too much, however. An argument between mother and daughter reaches fever pitch with "hello." The movie relies on too many emotional peaks and never finds a pleasant rhythm. Flashbacks dominate the first third of the movie, as do mini-montages of remembering, walking, sulking, playing, etc. All this adds considerably to an unjustified running time of 117 minutes.
Simmonds admirably carries the movie. It's up to her to give the Joan of Arc plotline—one of several Heavy Threads in the movie—legs. Her character genuinely struggles with an intense relationship to God.
Less convincing, however, are the parts involving Alec. The character is poorly developed and given cheap theatrics instead of motivation. Alec is also portrayed as a sort of Columbine killer, complete with dark trench coat, plans to bomb the school and lines like "Where's your God now?"
All that makes Sarah's character even more like Cassie Bernall or Rachel Scott—real Columbine victims whose legacies include a gunpoint defense of God and having visions.
As one might expect given Sarah's commitment, there's a scene about an abstinence campaign, which one student says "sounds like a Baptist thing." Several characters also quote Bible verses.
A Big Twist at the end turns out not to be surprising, and matters are made worse by tacking on a few final—and unnecessary—shots.
"Echoes of Innocence" represents moviemaking with a message—something akin to what the "Left Behind" films are doing. The problem is that good message doesn't necessarily equal good movie.
Granted, "Echoes" reveals some skill. Making any movie is difficult, and writer-director Nathan Todd Sims has all the pistons firing at times. But at others, the illusion isn't complete.
If there is a point to sticking a message in a movie as opposed to a sermon, surely it has to do with stealing a little bit of that movie magic. But even then, message movies are different from stories, and it's not entirely clear that moviegoers want the former instead of the latter.
All that said, "Echoes of Innocence" represents a certain freedom—and wherewithal—to make whatever film one wants. As long as that's championed, hope for deriving meaning at the moviehouse will live to see another day.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, violence and thematic issues. Reviewer's Note: There's lots of talk about Sarah's sexual status—too much talk, as a matter of fact.
Director: Nathan Todd Sims
Writer: Nathan Todd Sims
Cast: Sarah: Sara Simmonds; Dave: Jake McDorman; Beth: Natalie Jones; Alec: Matt Vodvarka.
The movie's official Web site is here.