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|STIR OF ECHOES
Starring: Kevin Bacon
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Rating: Rated R for violence & language.
Video Release: 1 February 2000
Tagline: "In every mind there is a door that has never been opened."
Granted, there are striking similarities between the two films (in particular, a young boy who sees dead people) but Stir Of Echoes can easily be compared to Ghost, The Shining, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind as well. While it premiered 41 days after the release of The Sixth Sense, Koepp's film was actually shot first and (more notably) is based upon a story that is 40 years old; the 1958 Richard Matheson novel of the same title. You be the judge.
The story: Kevin Bacon stars as Tom Witzky, an ordinary blue-collar type who lives in a quaint Chicago neighborhood, lined with brownstones and friendly faces. One evening at a local party, the "doubting Thomas" coaxes his irritating sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas) to hypnotize him. While in his trance, she plants the suggestion that Tom be more "open-minded." Somehow, the trance unlocks the dormant ability to see past and future events which come to Tom in bizarre visions. At first, they are brief and indistinct but as the plot advances, patterns of consistency emerge. As he becomes intoxicated with seeking out the reason behind these cryptic hallucinations, his relationship with his family and friends begins to take a turn for the worse.
The first half of this film is best described as a suspense-inducing yarn that turns into a hellish nightmare. It is the later half that unravels into the standard murder mystery, featuring an ungainly death and the botched cover-up of those involved. While the events progressed from the initial concept fairly well, the story ends up relying on stale plot mechanics causing it to stumble into a cliché resolution -- as many horror films have in the past.
Stir Of Echoes is hardly a horror film, though, in the sense of blood curdling shock but instead builds a suspenseful narrative through its characters. The strongest aspects are indeed the performances by Bacon and Kathryn Erbe (his wife, Maggie), who clearly convey the overwhelming sense of hopelessness that stricken their characters. Bacon's portrayal is raw and edgy, reminiscent of Jack Nicholas's role in The Shining. When his character begins dismantling his home due to a vision, which spells "dig" (yes, very cliché), its deja-vu from a quarter-century ago: the crazed Richard Dreyfuss character in Speilberg's classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Why this film fails is due to it's many loose threads which are (a) never answered/explored or (b) have no purpose in driving the story forward. Tom & Maggie's son, played by Zachary David Cope, commands this "sixth sense" like his father -- yet the story never expands upon this factor. When we’re introduced to the main characters, we discover (in Lisa's terms) that "Tom has impregnated her sister (Maggie) again" though the pregnancy has nothing to do with the plot and is never mentioned again. There's a subplot involving an underground organization who also share this uncanny ability with Tom and his son -- yet it is never fleshed out. And, one can only guess as to the thirst Tom experiences due to his visions, which necessitates him to stock pile his fridge with an abundance of OJ. Perhaps Minute Maid assisted Koepp and company with funds for the budget? Unfortunately, it is these plot holes which pull Stir Of Echoes in as many directions as the haunting images do to Tom.
And speaking of haunting images, one should give credit to Koepp and cinematographer Fred Murphy in minimizing the amount of computer effects used, allowing them to focus more on the cast's talent in creating the film's creepy atmosphere. One of the most harrowing is the mysterious apparition of a slain woman (Jennifer Morrison) in which the phantom appearance was shot at six frames per second while the actress moved at 1/4 normal speed. This created a jarring in-camera effect, which was quite difficult to put one’s finger on.
I was debating between a "2" and "3" and decided, primarily due to Bacon's solid performance, to opt for the "3." If you enjoyed The Sixth Sense you may see Stir Of Echoes as a cheap rip-off and avoid it. If you do, you might be partially right but then you'll also be denying yourself a great exhibition by the man -- who just happens to be the center of the Hollywood Universe.
© Terrence J. Brady
The ratings for "Pan & Scan" are broken down into a simple 1-5 scale as follows: 5 = "Forget renting it - BUY IT!"; 4 = "Definite Must Rent"; 3 = "Coin Toss" (Rent it OR wait for cable); 2 = "Wait For Cable"; 1 = "Ignore It!" (Even when it's on network TV).