Stir of Echoes

Ealasaid/ September 24, 1999/ Movie Reviews and Features

Originally written for The Occidental.

This appears to be the season for dead people and the children who see them.
First, we got the fantastic The Sixth Sense, and now Stir of Echoes is out. And while Stir of Echoes isn’t quite as good as The Sixth Sense, it is pretty much what it sets out to be – a scary film about what happens when your brain gets opened a little too wide.
Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) is an ordinary guy living in a decent, ordinary neighborhood in Chicago with his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and his son Jake (Zachary David Cope). But when his sister-in-law Lisa (Illeana Douglas) hypnotizes him at a block party, he comes back a rather changed man. Not only is he one of the lucky eight percent of the population who are extremely hypnotizable, he is also now able to see visions, and they gradually take over his life. Even more disturbing is his discovery that his five-year-old son has the same abilities.
The first half of Stir of Echoes is marvelous. The characters are introduced, a feeling of eerieness is gradually built (helped along by Jake’s tendency to talk to thin air and say things like, “does it hurt to be dead?”). The hypnosis sequence is a masterpiece of atmosphere, and the gradual build-up of Tom’s newfound psychic powers is very well done. There’s even a little humor – this isn’t a film afraid to be darkly funny.
Unfortunately, all of that eventually goes downhill, and what promised to be an unusual terror film degenerates into a fairly predictable ghost story. A good ghost story, but one we’ve seen before nonetheless.
Tom is a well-crafted character – he loves his wife and child, and likes his friends, but is dissatisfied with his ordinariness. And once he becomes suddenly extraordinary, he has to deal with the terror that it brings. Bacon does a good job with the role, his lean build and scratchy voice fitting Tom to a T. Erbe and Douglas turn in solid performances, but aren’t really challenged by the script; their characters are fairly simple, but still important to the plot. Cope is remarkable for his age – six years old at the time of filming, he manages to convey both the simplicity and the matter-of-factness that very young children can have about the unusual.
The bottom line is, if you’re looking for a good, scary flick, Stir of Echoes will probably satisfy you. But if you want something different from the usual terrorflick fare, go someplace else.

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