Katie Owsley and Hunter Doohan in Soundwave (Photo: Foggy Bottom Pictures)
★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Dylan K. Narang
STARS Hunter Doohan, Katie Owsley
If 1999’s The Sixth Sense was the movie that featured a boy who uttered, “I see dead people,” Soundwave could easily be tagged as the film with a boy who could mutter, “I hear dead people.”
Whereas little Cole Sear had to turn to the supernatural to make his long-distance connections, the teenage Ben Boyles (played by Hunter Doohan) relies instead on science. A smart kid who works in an electronics repair shop owned by his late father’s friend Antonio (Mike Beaver), Ben operates like a mini-Tony Stark, cobbling together random pieces of radio equipment and inventing something truly unique. What Ben has created is a device that somehow can pick up the soundwaves floating through the air, thus allowing him to listen to other people’s conversations. And it’s not just an invention for the here and now: Since soundwaves never truly dissipate (or so the movie insists), Ben also has access to specific conversations from the past, so long as he has the exact dates and times to pinpoint them.
Ben’s main reason for creating such a device is to find out how and why his dad disappeared a few years earlier, a difficult task since he’s unable to ascertain the specific day and hour. But since Ben has to pay the bills — or, rather, Antonio’s bills, since the kindly shopkeeper is facing eviction — he rents out his services to Detective Macy (Vince Nappo). Using the contraption, Ben is able to not only identify criminals but also collect evidence to put them behind bars. Macy appreciates the assistance, but he’s also aware that the invention has the potential to make both of them rich. With that in mind, he sets up a meeting between Ben and Frank (Paul Tassone), an oily individual who clearly wants to use the device for nefarious purposes. Ben balks, murders are committed, and the chase is on.
If Soundwave has a screen antecedent, it would be Frequency, the arresting 2000 effort in which Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel play a father and son who are connected 30 years apart via a ham radio. A lesser connection can also be made to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 gem The Conversation, with Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert who inadvertently gets involved in murder. Yet despite these traces of DNA in Soundwave’s system, writer-director Dylan K. Narang has nevertheless made a film that feels refreshingly original.
More impressively, Narang made the film on a small budget, though that’s never obvious given the quality of both the performances and the visual scheme. Doohan makes for a thoughtful lead, Katie Owsley is effective as the troubled woman who finds herself on the run alongside Ben, Tassone injects some warped comic bits into his otherwise frightening portrayal, and Beaver is immensely sympathetic as Ben’s caring keeper. As for the effects employed whenever Ben is in listening mode — a combo of slow-motion and still images — they initially startle but eventually impress.
The relationship between Ben and Owsley’s character could stand to be further fleshed out, and it would have been entertaining to see the device utilized for other crime-stopping efforts. But perhaps Narang might beef up these ingredients if he elects to make a sequel. Soundwave 2: Pump Up the Volume has a nice ring to it.
(Soundwave is now available on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Vudu, and other streaming services.)