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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 Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

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 paranormal experience.

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 your seat".

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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