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Stir of Echoes (1999) – Movie Review

Stir of Echoes poster art

Written and Directed by: David Koepp, based on the novel by Richard Matheson
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Illeana Douglas, Zachary David Cope, Liza Weil

My Advice: Matinee

Tom (Bacon) is, as a song once said, an ordinary average guy. He’s got a caring wife (Erbe), a decent neighborhood with good neighbors, and a son (Cope) who talks to dead people. Huh? Too involved to discuss here. Anyway, one night at a neighborly get together, his sister-in-law Lisa (Douglas) convinces him to submit to hypnosis. It works great guns on him, so much so that he starts to see things, specifically glimpses of something bad which happened in the neighborhood’s past. Now he’s got to figure out what some ghost is trying to tell him before it drives him completely around the bend and tears his family apart.

[ad#longpost]Let me start off by saying it’s a shame that this film got tossed aside in the wake of The Sixth Sense‘s success, because in my mind at least, it’s a more satisfying film. Look at the similarities: a boy who can talk to dead people and an adult who gets sucked into things but really is kinda weirded out about the whole ordeal. The difference between Willis and Bacon is that Bacon actually seems to be on the set and acting instead of sleepwalking. Also, this film is paced much better: when Tom’s life begins to unravel, it’s not a quick process, but so many interesting twists happen along the way that it’s actually taking the right amount of time to hit the payoff. With the other film, I really wanted either the payoff to hurry up and arrive or to focus more on Haley Joel Osment’s character.

But enough about comparisons. Let me tell you about this film. Bacon has the potential to be among the fine actors I classify as horribly underrated. Because he lays the foundation of being such an average joe, the descent into craziness he undergoes is much more unnerving. If Bacon were the only one pulling his weight the film would not work. But Koepp and company ground the entire setup in a blue collar Chicago neighborhood populated by citizens that feel real to the point where you might think you recognize these people. Illeana Douglas stands out of the supporting cast as well, amusingly enough being the one with her head on straight and despite being the one who caused the trouble to begin with. We couldn’t have such an effective dark side of things unless Koepp had created such a credible light side.

Things stay in what we think of as reality except for little quick touches. For example, an especially effective scene where Tom gets hypnotized consists of a POV shot of him floating through a darkened theatre, with the audience right along with him in their own darkened theatre. Very eerie. Also pleasing is that simple “cat jumping out of the box” shots are few and far between, as opposed to most so-called suspense films these days, which make a habit of them. Another subplot about an underground culture consisting of people with “open minds” leaves you wanting more, which also is a rarity.

All in all, it’s a good film that’s more of a supernatural thriller than true horror. But at this point, I don’t care about the genre–I just want decent weird movies. And this is one of them. See it on the big screen for the full effect.

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