Billed as a thriller about teen sexual purity and spiritual warfare, this tedious film is saddled with a muddled script and ridiculous plot developments—that is, if it can be called a "plot" at all.
While funnyman Steve Carell brings in the big box office bucks as a 40-Year-Old Virgin, Sara Simmonds now hits the big screen—albeit on a limited basis—as a slightly younger virgin. Simmonds plays the role of Sarah in the new movie Echoes of Innocence, about a high school student with an unnatural fixation on Joan of Arc and whose classmates call her "Virg" because of her commitment to abstinence until she weds her true love.
Her true love's name happens to be Chris. As middle schoolers, Sarah and Chris promise to marry one another on Sarah's 18th birthday. It's an adorable little case of puppy love, but it abruptly turns to misery when Chris shows up at Sarah's window one night and tells her that he has to leave her and asks her to promise to save herself for him. Then he speeds away in a limo.
But don't get your hopes up; this isn't one of those taut thrillers where mysterious things happen but are not explained until the final act. In Echoes of Innocence, the mysterious things are never really explained. You'll have to make up your own reason why Chris had to leave Sarah so suddenly; the film never tells us why.
Not that the story ends with Chris' departure. Young Sarah eventually grows up into a high school student, and she is perpetually haunted by strange visions and her aforementioned obsession with Joan of Arc. She lives with her senile grandmother but spends a good chunk of her time lighting candles and praying at an old abandoned church building. She is eventually contacted by an investigative reporter, David (Jake McDorman), and sparks of romance start to fly, in spite of Sarah's vow to Chris.
Oh, and there's also a creepy, teenage sexual deviant who wants to sleep with Sarah and kill everyone else in the school. Thankfully, Sarah is protected by a random bull that comes completely out of nowhere to protect her and her church of solitude. And, David has a secret of his own, one that will likely occur to most viewers in the film's first half but is nevertheless shockingly ridiculous when it is revealed in the final five minutes.
Do you feel lost? Well, watching the film won't help matters. First-time writer/director Nathan Todd Sims has some great ideas and a noble goal—to craft a teen thriller about sexual purity and spiritual warfare—but he's working with a script muddled by inconsistencies, contrivances, and flat-out absurdities.
Unfortunately, that's not the film's only problem. Sims apparently has little faith in his audience; he insults our intelligence over and over with heavy-handed direction and subtle-as-gravel storytelling. For instance, the presence of the mysterious villain is always summoned by the sudden swelling of thundering, ominous music—kinda like Darth Vader's "Imperial March," only really irritating. And, when the same character mysteriously disappears, his vanishing is heralded by a hissing, snake-like sound. (I wonder if that symbolizes anything?)
Some films benefit greatly from the use of the mute button; alas, Echoes of Innocence isn't much to look at, either. The cinematography is bland and boring, and the visual effects are the stuff of made-for-TV movies. In fact, there are many things about this film that just seem soo Lifetime.
The actors are obviously given precious little to work with, and the director's lack of subtlety rubs off on most of them. Simmonds and McDorman both give passable performances, but they occasionally drift into The Land of Overacting, where most of their costars seem to have taken up permanent residence. Actress Julie Rankin is especially over the top as Sarah's irresponsible mother; but then, her character is the most poorly written of the bunch, an outrageously corny caricature that toes the line of audience manipulation.
Echoes of Innocence is hyped as "a sexy new teen movie—without the sex!" That's a rather inane statement, and it really isn't even true. References to sex and virginity abound (though all are tasteful and appropriate to the story), and there are two scenes that rather obviously suggest sexuality. Perhaps the tagline is meant to reference the film's pro-abstinence message, but even that gets lost in the messy, convoluted plot.
Made by Christian filmmakers, Echoes of Innocence is undeniably a film with very good intentions. Unfortunately, that's the only good thing that can be said about it. This movie could be used in Christian filmmaking classes—as a model of everything that's wrong with so much contemporary Christian art. To use a musical analogy, it's like the most untalented, derivative praise-and-worship band you've ever heard: You can't fault their love for Jesus, but you can fault their lousy product.
Note: This film is showing in limited theaters. For a listing, check the official website.Discussion starters
- Compare and contrast the differing views on virginity and sexual purity that are held by the characters in this film.
- Compare and contrast this film's views on virginity with other recent films (The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, for example).
- In what ways does God intervene in Sarah's life? In what ways does the story display God's power and sovereignty?
- (Spoiler!) Is David right in deceiving Sarah the way he does?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Echoes of Innocence is rated PG-13 for "thematic issues." Though billed as a teen sex movie "without the sex," there are frequent references to sexuality and virginity, as well as a couple of scenes of implied sexuality. There is also some brief, non-explicit violence and some tense thematic issues that make the movie unsuitable for younger children.
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Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 09/15/05
Echoes of Innocence, which is being promoted to Christian audiences as a movie about teen sex that affirms the value of abstinence, is the first feature from writer/director Nathan Todd Sims.
But according to Christian film critics, the people responsible for this film have a lot to learn about filmmaking, no matter what they believe about premarital sex.
Tom Neven (Plugged In) writes, "Echoes of Innocence is to be praised for its unabashed portrayal of sexual abstinence until marriage and by defending that position with a strong and admirable female character, Sarah. What's not so straightforward is Sarah's motivation for remaining a virgin. … The film, to its credit, is notably short on Christian clichés and preachiness, and yet maintains an unmistakably biblical undertone. … But Sims establishes his allegory in creepy thriller territory, and that's a risky strategy."
Neven criticizes "gratuitous swearing" and concludes that the film "does the right thing. Sometimes."
Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) says, "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."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "The modest film's positive portrayal of religious belief and admirable pro-chastity message is handicapped by the uneven performances and clumsy story line, little of which makes sense."
Mainstream critics find the result severely lacking.
Scott Craven (Arizona Republic) calls it "a film that tries to be all heart at the expense of the brain. … The film inexplicably devolves into a thriller, leading to a climax as out of place as a Buffy the Vampire Slayer cameo on The Gilmore Girls. … The film fails to satisfy the romance fan or the thriller fan, landing with a thud not between the two, but miles away."
Marritt Ingman (Austin Chronicle) observes two fatal flaws in the film: "One is that the message is the movie. The characters … serve as walking vessels for moral choices rather than as people logically connected to a set of circumstances shaped into a narrative plot. … Then there's the message itself. The filmmakers do not so much praise abstinence—which is of course a perfectly valid lifestyle option—as they romanticize and fetishize teenage marriage, casting it in a rosy glow of ever-after that dodges the difficulty of maintaining a lifelong partnership at any age."
Daniel Neman (Richmond Times-Dispatch) says, "So what if its heart is in the right place? The movie is an embarrassment, with ineffectual actors who are badly directed, reading banal dialogue while filmed with effects that were at no time special, soporifically edited and set to music that could work as a lullaby. All that, and it's almost two hours long."from Film Forum, 09/22/05
Andrew Coffin (World) echoes last week's poor reviews, saying that the movie "quickly jettisons any sense of realism in plotting and character and dives into archetypes (a kind word for clichés) and sensationalism. This abstinence tale is framed as a supernatural thriller, presumably because that's what would attract teenagers to an abstinence tale. Interesting perhaps in concept, but not in execution."