Fear Itself is the unofficial third season of Showtime’s Masters of Horror. When Showtime was no longer willing to finance the show, Lionsgate stepped in with a budget and a new deal for the show to move to NBC. The series was cancelled about halfway through its run, with the last five episodes debuting on the NBC website.
A man moves into a new house with his girlfriend. He has visions of the same house, only not the same house. The furniture, the walls, and the fixtures are all different. He also sees horrific flashes of brutal crimes everywhere he goes.
Echoes is the kind of story that can only really soar in an anthology format. Even if you told this kind of time skipping, reality bending story as a standalone short film, it would suffer from a lack of context. This is an experimental horror story that gets to be made on the condition that more sensible, comfortable horror stories get told around it. You need the balance of things like Spirit Box and Chance to prepare an audience for something truly unusual like Echoes.
Rupert Wainwright is the outlier director in the entirety of Masters of Horror and Fear Itself. Yes, he made horror films before Echoes. He directed Stigmata and The Fog remake. Most of his directorial work before and after these films are music videos or short films about sports. His signature elements are style and tone shifts for storytelling purposes.
Sean Hood, the writer of the episode, offers a bit more insight into the why and how of Echoes. He is an accomplished horror screenwriter, taking on projects like Halloween: Resurrection, Cube2: Hypercube, and The Crow: Wicked Prayer. He also wrote the Masters of Horror episode Sick Girl. His screenplays deal with layers of identity and secrets hidden in forgotten memories.
Echoes tells two narratives at once. Stephan is a writer who is trying to find out why his life is disrupted by visions of an entirely different life at his brand new house. Maxwell is a violent criminal who lived in the 1920s, dating a woman who looks just like Stephan’s girlfriend Karen. Stephan finds out that Maxwell is one of his past lives when visiting his therapist, who caught him shift into this identity during a session.
This is the kind of weird fiction that can thrive in an anthology format. Echoes doesn’t quite add up to a complete story on its own. It is scary, strange, and beautiful in equal measure. The episode is an experience of psychological horror reliant on the understanding that it is one of many stories in a horror framework.
The joy of an anthology series like Fear Itself is the variety. It is highly unlikely that you will like every episode of a series like this, the same way you’re probably not going to enjoy every short in an anthology film. That ultimately doesn’t matter. You get a taste of a wide range of stories, themes, and styles without having to commit to just one story. If you don’t like Echoes, you might like In Sickness and in Health or Something with Bite. If you do like Echoes, you still might hate another identity-based story like Eater or Chance. The stories are different by design.
Echoes is a simple concept executed with a lot of style. Once you know what’s going to happen, you’re powerless to stop it. The terror comes not in the knowledge that something bad will happen, but in the realization that how it will happen is far worse than what you expected.
content warning: gore, violence against women, domestic violence
Up next: Fear Itself S1E13 “The Circle,” from director Eduardo Rodriguez.