Written and directed by #ChloëSevigny
Known for starring in classic films such as American Psycho (2000) and Boys Don’t Cry (1999) as well as an array of art-house films, Chloë Sevigny’s third short film as a director #WhiteEcho appears to be a familiar ghost story on the surface. However, her proven track record of choosing roles that are controversial and experimental means that it’s no surprise that her latest short film White Echo strays away from convention.
The story follows five young women who are on vacation from the city staying in a remote country house. Encouraged by Carla, played by Kate Lyn Sheil, they take part in a séance using an Ouija board to conjure a spirit. There's a haunting presence in the house, one that fascinates Carla, who finds herself wanting to communicate with it. But the viewer is kept in the dark about exactly how much Carla knows about the house and its history. This is effective in allowing for Sevigny to intrigue the viewer by not revealing too much at the beginning. However, the short running time never allows for any definitive answers or revelations to occur, which leaves the viewer slightly bewildered yet still intrigued.
The film exudes eeriness and feels reminiscent of the Gothic genre through its uncanny imagery and setting of a haunted country house in a remote location. Reminiscent of the strange and otherworldly dance sequences in Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria (2018), the women in White Echo partake in a similarly haunting dance scene towards the climax of the séance, where their movements suggest they are either intoxicated by alcohol or the spirit they have connected to. These notes of surrealism and beguiling, strange imagery succeed at hinting at more complex ideas at play than just exploring typical gothic tropes.
Through the character of Carla, Sevigny explores the power of women that is so often crushed, silenced and hidden away by suggesting that Carla’s inner power has something to do with these strange goings on. Her inner self is hinted at throughout the short film through a number of instances. Shadows and black cats appearing and multiplying in Carla’s field of vision further confuse reality with imagination and symbolise this doubling of the self. In the final scenes of the film when Carla returns to her flat, mirrors are central to the space and reflect Carla all around the room. The imagery of Carla multiplying evokes this multiplying of symbols and the self again as Sevigny cleverly explores Carla’s sense of self doubling. This is the moment when her inner power is finally being released.
These echoes throughout the film of doubling are reinforced through the use of sound in White Echo. The score is most effectively used during the film when accompanied with these haunting symbolic images. This is most prevalent in the final moments of the film when Carla’s inner power is fully realised. The score plays in the background like the sound of a warning siren repeating over and over. The use of sound here reinforces a heightened sense of dread, further unsettling the viewer even further.
Overall, White Echo is an eerie, sinister and surreal escape which is both hauntingly uncanny while being grounded in the real. Sevigny explores tropes of the Gothic genre in a novel and clever way by using them to explore universal issues of a woman’s power and self acceptance. At times the film verges into style over substance, as the beautiful visuals and sound design take centre stage, yet the story remains intriguing until the very end.
White Echo is now streaming on YouTube as part of We Are One: A Global Film Festival.