First-time feature film director Medina hits his marks with ‘ECCO’

PTHS alum does justice to filmmakers who inspired him

Posted 8/14/19

Ben Medina graduated from Port Townsend High School in 2001, but he credited the Rose Theatre in downtown Port Townsend with teaching him about film.

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First-time feature film director Medina hits his marks with ‘ECCO’

PTHS alum does justice to filmmakers who inspired him

Posted

Ben Medina graduated from Port Townsend High School in 2001, but he credited the Rose Theatre in downtown Port Townsend with teaching him about film.

If Medina’s feature film debut “ECCO” is any indication, the Rose is a very good teacher.

Medina has cited fellow film writer/directors Michael Mann, Stanley Kubrick and Christopher Nolan as formative influences, and to Medina’s credit, “ECCO” captures some of the best aspects of each of the aforementioned filmmakers’ signature styles, without feeling like a mere retread or remix.

Medina shares in common with Mann a love of the twilight atmosphere of urban landscapes — with his Port Townsend upbringing, it’s perhaps inevitable that Medina lenses shipyards as lovingly as Mann does Los Angeles or Miami — and like Kubrick, Medina is confident enough to allow scenes to breathe, with only sparse interjections of dialogue.

What ultimately made “ECCO” such a rewarding viewing experience for me, however, was how its cleverness kept pace with the more cerebral of Nolan’s earlier works, from “Following” and “Memento” to “The Prestige,” by lulling its audience into a sense of complacency before dropping the bottom out from beneath their feet.

Medina and Lathrop Walker, the leading man with whom he mapped out the story, not only rely on their audience being familiar with the genre conventions associated with this specific sub-genre of story — a former professional assassin trying to leave his old life behind, but being forced to deal with the powerful people he once worked for — but the two storytellers successfully weaponize the audience’s expectations and interpretations of the narrative against them.

With a finite onscreen cast, Walker shoulders a considerable burden as our protagonist, an enigma named Michael, who contains multitudes, and like the film itself, his performance gradually ramps up from a slow burn at the outset, relying on subtle hints throughout to foreshadow both the plot twists that you’ll more easily see coming, and the final revelations that will likely catch you flat-footed.

The narrative unfolds in two parallel tracks, with scenes of a younger Michael in his early 30s interspersed with those of an older, more heavily scarred Michael in his mid-40s, and Walker’s acting differentiates the two in such a distinct yet non-showy way that it reminded me of Kyle MacLachlan’s tour de force work in the third season of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks,” from a couple of years back.

In keeping with those parallel tracks, both younger and older Michael have connected with women they love, and without relying on overly florid dialogue or detailed slice-of-life scenes, it’s up to the actors’ innate chemistry to sell the audience on the strength of those love affairs, which is why “ECCO” benefits from having magnetic actresses such as Helena Grace Donald and Tabitha Bastien in those roles.

Regional audiences may recall Bastien from her star turn of Jonathan Holbrook’s sci-fi web series “Still,” filmed in Arlington five years ago, so it’s heartening to see her talent under a brighter spotlight.

Ben Medina has created a film that I not only enjoyed immersing myself in, but that I also feel the need to see again, since its hidden Easter eggs reward repeat viewings.

He’s already got plans for his next feature film, and while I won’t share the scant details he mentioned, the quality of “ECCO” by itself has earned my ticket money for whatever he does next.

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