Stir of Echoes (1999)

Stir of EchoesStarring Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Illeana Douglas, Zachary David Cope, Liza Weil, Kevin Dunn.
Written by David Koepp based on the novel by Richard Matheson.
Directed by David Koepp.

Grade: B-

Review by Alison Tweedie-Perry.

Hollywood must be preparing for some millennial flood as they march out movies two by thematic two. This trend, most in evidence at last year’s Oscars as two World War Two movies faced off against two Elizabethan period pieces, shows its most recent incarnation as a subset of this summer’s most popular genre, the scary movie, with two boy-meets-ghost tales, The Sixth Sense and Stir of Echoes.

While it begs comparison with the more dramatic and deep The Sixth Sense by being released after that film’s surprising five-week stranglehold on the otherwise boring late summer box office, Stir of Echoes deserves to be judged on its own considerable merits. More a straightforward supernatural thriller than its counterpart, Stir of Echoes is a well executed scary ghost story with genuine jump value that comes--as all good scares do--from its foundation in the recognizable, everyday world of people “just like us.”

That familiarity stems in large part from the “Center of the Acting Universe” Kevin Bacon (be sure to note the names in this film, they will be useful for many future rounds of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”). Bacon plays Tom Witzky, the sort of everyman who is just coming to the realization that his youth is over. He’s a lineman in Chicago with a pretty, hip wife (Kathryn Erbe), a small son (Zachary David Cope), and a fading dream of being a musician. Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echoes

The family lives in a close-knit community where everyone knows each other, has block parties, and hangs out at each other’s houses. One night, at a neighbor’s party, Tom dares his new-agey sister-in-law Lisa (Illeana Douglas) to hypnotize him. When he awakens, seemingly a second later, his ordinary world has changed.

From that moment on, Tom struggles to figure out what has happened to him and to explain what he is seeing. While the actual story contains few surprises, the way it unfolds is engrossing and there are genuinely creepy moments.

The strength of the film is the performances. Bacon takes us through the story on his natural portrayal of a man suddenly experiencing the supernatural. Illeana Douglas is wonderful in her small but pivotal role. Zachary David Cope, while no Haley Joel Osment, is engaging and utterly believable. One of the best things about this movie, besides the fact that it furthers the trend toward good old-fashioned scary movies, is that the special effects serve the narrative well. They are used to illustrate and heighten experiences that would be impossible with conventional film techniques. They blend in and further the story rather than jumping out and demanding that we notice them.

While Stir of Echoes will not incite hours of discussion, nor be lauded for Oscar consideration, it achieves its goals admirably and easily qualifies as good entertainment.

Review © September 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
© 1998 Artisan Pictures, Inc.

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