The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond is, like Ti West’s The House of the Devil, a throwback, though director Gabriel Bologna’s imagination is decidedly bridge-and-tunnel—expensive-looking but still unmistakably trashy. Something of a lazy April Fool’s Day/Witchboard mashup, the film follows a group of friends to a private island with a shady past and only one year-round resident, a scruffy caretaker (Robert Patrick) with the instincts of a T-1000, and after finding and playing a gothic, hilariously noisy party game that suggests a creative enterprise between Madonna and the makers of Dungeons & Dragons, the characters begin to spill their deepest secrets. Petty grudges and furtive crushes are exposed, with a douche played by James Duval feeling the brunt of all the baggage that’s swung about, and as tensions flare and rage propels them, one by one, to murder, a gooey blackness takes over their eyes. Though everyone’s frankness appears to summon the rising of a horned creature upstairs, the he-beast is only a symbol—a crude manifestation of everyone’s latent desires and misgivings.
Bologna has no real gift for framing and cutting, or directing actors and conjuring suspense, and though the script doesn’t bother with an explanation—even an incoherent one—for why the story’s supernatural truth-or-dare board game preys on the characters and, often and inexplicably, misleads them, his fixation on personal trauma is impressive in its unwaveringness. A few confrontations between characters, as in a girl flashing two boys sparring over their girlfriends (twin sisters), are interestingly built around the notion that a situation is only as loaded as one wants to make it. Ultimately, though, audiences will come for Bolongna’s equally unswerving and giddy fixation on gore effects, and for sure, his sincere if overzealous fondness for old-school schlock almost makes up for the overall lack of creative inspiration.