Let’s be real here. The main reason the low-budget Western Echoes of War is opening in theaters here is because of the presence of Maika Monroe, the lead actress of this spring’s indie horror hit It Follows who now seems on track for Hollywood’s A list. Given its nondescript title, you might mistake it for yet another one of the disposable genre movies that have opened here in limited release, one that just happened to catch a star on the rise. That would be underestimating this film, though.
The story is set in rural Texas just after the end of the Civil War, from which a Confederate soldier named Wade (James Badge Dale) has just returned to stay temporarily with his recently widowed brother-in-law Seamus Riley (Ethan Embry) and his two children Abigail and Samuel (Monroe and Owen Teague). Unfortunately, the family’s formerly wealthy neighbor Randolph (William Forsythe), whose cattle were confiscated by the Rebel Army, has resorted to stealing rabbits and squirrels trapped by the Rileys, who need the meat and fur to survive. Wade’s determination not to let the thefts go unpunished leads to a spiral of violence engulfing both clans.
This Western’s present-day resonances make it pop out. Wade is a PTSD case in a time when that isn’t recognized as a condition, and the underappreciated Dale (best known from his TV roles on 24 and The Pacific) does well to reconcile Wade’s easy demeanor and jocular sense of humor with his night terrors and his capacity for violence. In addition, the ogre-like Randolph taking game that he feels is rightfully his adds a piquant note of class tension as well. The revenge plot jibes nicely with both the tension between Wade and Seamus (whose Christian faith forbids him from pursuing revenge) and the complicating romance between Abigail and Marcus (Rhys Wakefield), Randolph’s shy, decent, brutalized son.
Helming his first feature film, Australian director Kane Senes puts this together in a workmanlike manner, taking the narrative at an appropriately slow pace without succumbing to torpor. He gets good performances out of Monroe and Embry (unrecognizable with a shaved head and a graying beard) as well as Dale, which makes up for the one-dimensional villain and a late plot development that’s a shade too predictable. Echoes of War breaks no new ground, and when it’s compared to similar films, it has neither the lyricism of David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints nor the concentrated power of Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin, but this tale of the futility of revenge works well enough on its own modest terms.
[box_info]Echoes of War
Starring James Badge Dale and Maika Monroe. Directed by Kane Senes. Written by John Chriss and Kane Senes. Rated R.[/box_info]