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Stir of Echoes

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Stir of Echoes

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Liza Weil
Director: David Koepp
Rated: R
RunTime: 94 Minutes
Release Date: September 1999
Genres: Horror, Suspense, Thriller

*Also starring: Illeana Douglas, Kathryn Erbe, Kevin Dunn

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Limbo must be a fascinating place indeed, the subject of so many movies during the past 12 months. In John Sayles' "Limbo," lost souls are stranded on a deserted island wondering whether the chopper approaching to pick them up houses friend or foe. Vincent Ward's "What Dreams May Come" centers on a fellow who seeks his wife in a literal purgatory. In "The Sixth Sense," a force is not ready to go to his final resting place until he is redeemed, and in "The Haunting" some silly dead kids, worked to death by a 19th century robber baron, slide and glide under sheets and pillars of a capacious mansion awaiting their maternal savior. These films, some effective, some not, possess features that endear them to some audiences, but they are hardly hair- rising. Unless you're one of those fans taken in by a dazzling marketing campaign for the inept "The Blair Witch Project," you'll wonder whether the summer season will be devoid of genuine, spine-chilling terror. If you've been fearing not at what Hollywood and the indie studios have offered so far, then fear not: "Stir of Echoes" answers our plea.

Directing his own script from Richard Matheson's book, David Koepp (scripter for "Jurassic Park," "Mission: Impossible," "The Lost World," "Snake Eyes") displays a depressing working-class Chicago neighborhood of row- houses affected with such satanic goings-on that at least three of its families would wish for Billy Sunday to shut the city down. The story revolves about the efforts of one ordinary guy to liberate a tortured soul, allowing the spirit to lose its ghastly pallor and skip off into the sunset a happy apparition. The Greeks and Elizabethans believed before our own time that a murder victim cannot rest in peace until punishment is meted out to the killers, setting the universe once again in balance. Unbenownst to him, one ordinary working-class guy must undergo that task in our own age.

Such a task must have been the most remote purpose in the mind of Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon), a thoroughly prosaic blue-collar worker who is married to a caring wife, Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and who has an unusually precocious little boy, Jake. So ordinary is this man that he arouses the rancor of his cosmopolitan sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), who challenges him to broaden his horizons by putting himself under hypnosis. Despite his feeling that hypnosis is mere superstition, Tom proves eminently suggestible--so much so that he is put into a deep trance and has apparently been given enough post-hypnotic suggestion that he now sees what others do not. The ghost of a young woman appears intermittently before his startled eyes. His entire vista turns suddenly into a photographic negative seemingly lit by an infrared beam that appears with the buzzing sound of fluorescent lighting. Washing up, he suddenly spots a swirl of blood in his drinking glass. A tooth falls out, hits the sink and disappears. Coincidentally, his young son Jake communicates regularly with this deathly pale specter, accepting the altered reality in the matter-of-fact ways that kids are wont to do.

As the story progresses, becoming more vivid, melodramatic, and swiftly-paced, the mundane Tom descends into the maelstrom of the obsessed, determined to get literally to the bottom of the mystery of this ghostly presence. He begins excavating his basement like the James Brolin character in "The Amityville Horror." As the movie takes on the aspects of a macabre delight such as Edgar Allan Poe would have imagined, the panic that Tom feels communicates easily to his audience thanks to Kevin Bacon's astonishing ability to alter his heretofore unassuming, working-class ways into those of a bristling psychotic perfectly prepared to destroy his home and otherwise stable family life in pursuit of answers. A crackerjack editing job, juxtaposing the psychic world with the commonplace one keeps the audience on the edge. A solid performance by Illeana Douglas as the hypnotist offended by the commonplace and Kathryn Erbe as Tom's increasingly concerned and devoted wife makes "Stir of Echoes" the first scary movie of the year.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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