Kevin Bacon usually does his best work as a character actor. His three best
performances are in 'Sleepers' (1996) where he played a sexually abusive and
brutally violent reform school guard. In 'Murder in the First' (1995), he
played a man driven to the brink of insanity after being locked in the
solitary confinement wing of prison for too long and in 'JFK', he played a
male prostitute with a passion for wanting to tell the truth and his low
rent state of mind displayed a protracted passion for political ignorance.
Despite his great work, Bacon has never been nominated for an Academy award.
Some of my friends liked his work in 1992's 'A Few Good Men' and 1994's 'The
River Wild' and it's hard to ignore him in those films as well.
"We bury our dead alive, don't we?" This is a quote from an episode of
television's 'The X-Files'. An observation is made in that episode that
conscience is really the dead talking to us, those who have died violent
deaths and cry out for justice. An interesting theory and the idea of
paranormal intrigue involving the dead has long been a fascinating part of
going to the movies. But how many film makers and actors get it right?
Hypnosis. How much do we really know about it? According to what we learn
in 'Stir of Echoes', only about 8 per cent of the population can really go
under its influence. If this is true, Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon in a good
leading role) is one of the 8 per cent. Tom and his wife Maggie (Kathryn
Erbe) attend a house party in their Chicago neighbourhod one evening where
the subject of hypnosis comes up and Tom agrees to be put under the spell by
his sister-in-law Lisa (Ileana Douglas). Shortly after he is in a complete
trance, Tom begins to experience flashes of psychic visions involving a dead
teenage girl and her spirit roaming about in his home and around the
neighbourhood. This is a part of the plot carried out for the entire film.
We learn that the Witzky's son Jake (Zachary David Cope) can see the ghost
of dead people. And now dad begins to exhibit some of the same
characteristics. A clever way to portray this in the movie. Usually, in
other films, we see the eldest members of the family with this sense come
forward first and then the children but in this case it comes naturally to
the child while dad has it buried in his sub conscious mind and has it
brought out by the magic of hypnosis.
'Stir of Echoes' is a mind numbing and adrenalin pumping thriller that uses
the supernatural, a thrilling sub text and crime as its main elements of
entertainment. As the film progresses, it appears to make no sense
whatsoever, a merry go round of unpleasant images that don't seem to tell us
anything. But then it clicks in in an anti-climactic manner to illustrate
why it kept stringing us along from the start.
The film is based on the novel 'A Stir of Echoes' by Richard Matheson whose
other novel 'What Dreams May Come', was brought to the big screen in 1998
starring Robin Williams as a man who goes to heaven but learns his wife is
in hell and strives to bring her back with him to eternal paradise.
Matheson has a fascination with fantasy but 'Stir of Echoes' is more than
that. It's an honest and genuine thriller that sends shivers down one's
spine and I was very impressed with writer/director David Koepp's ability to
keep the chills coming and keep the whole thing seem credible to feed the
notion that things displayed in this film are possible if you believe the
ideas of some theologians and people who make a habit documenting the
I immediately drew comparisons from this film to 1983's 'The Dead Zone' and
this year's 'The Sixth Sense'. Those films have a more human look to them
that 'Stir of Echoes'. A more calculating sense of emotion if you will.
But for all of its effort, 'Stir of Echoes' stops just short of being a
great character study. It seems more concerned with the chills than with
developing great characters all around. It still manages to haunt us with
the miraculous wonder of great storytelling and it may be one of the year's
defining films that keeps in check with the definition of "on the edge of
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith