Old 02-15-2001, 11:58 PM
VIDEO CAPSULE: Stir of Echoes (9/10)

"Stir of Echoes": a soon-to-be classic ghost yarn

Fear is its most effective when it hits close to home. A ghost that materializes in an ancient castle is not nearly as alarming as one that appears in your own living room. Writers like Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King know this and have used it to good effect. Richard Matheson also knew this in 1957 when he wrote his novel "A Stir of Echoes," and writer/director David Koepp knew it when he adapted the novel for the big screen.

Kevin Bacon plays Tom Witzky, a telephone lineman who lives in a blue-collar Chicago neighborhood with his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and their five-year old son. Everyone within a five-block radius knows everyone else. To enliven the humdrum of their lives they throw house parties, or even street parties depending on the occasion.

At one of these parties Tom challenges his loopy, New Age sister-in-law (Ileana Douglas) to hypnotize him. He doesn't think she can, but she does, evoking a large empty theater in one of the movie's most memorable sequences. When he awakens, his friends are hooting and laughing. But Tom is disturbed. He, and we, remember a burst of unsettling images, a scattered collage that details pain and fear.

As the visions and hallucinations persist, Tom develops migraines and starts slamming orange juice by the carton and popping aspirin like candy. He becomes distracted and aloof, and Maggie is worried about his growing obsession with the visions, which she doesn't necessarily believe in. Weirder still, their son seems to be aware of another presence in the house, one who might be linked to Tom's visions, and whose name has an unusual effect on one of the boy's babysitters.

In spite of surrealistic moments and the protagonist's growing distouch with reality, Koepp keeps the movie grounded by using realism to counterpoint the paranormal. Everyday characters, settings and dialogue are the world into which the supernatural invade. He invokes this blue-collar neighborhood with nuance and fine attention to detail, leaving us utterly convinced this could be a real place inhabited by these very people.

The performances are superlative, as well. To be honest, every time I think of Kevin Bacon, my initial thoughts always hearken back to "Footloose." I know it's unfair to judge him by that one movie alone, but I constantly see him kicking the crap out of his pickup in the Kenny Loggins video. Happily, every time I see him in another film he never fails to prove that he's an actor worth watching. He never takes a misstep, and you never see the method in his performance. The role in "Stir" must have presented unique challenges, since it obligates him to react convincingly to situations and stimulus that people in real life never encounter. Yet, even when Tom is at his kookiest, like digging up his backyard, and basement, and living room, Bacon never allows us to fell distanced from him.

Kathryn Erbe's performance as Maggie, the distressed wife, is another gem. That Tom and Maggie truly love each other is never in question. But along with the fear and worry about her husband's unusual behavior, Erbe allows us to see Maggie's frustration as well. She is concerned for his sanity, but equally concerned about the days he's been missing at work. At one point, midway through the film, when a certain song leads Tom to a deeper connection with his visions, he emotionally breaks down, collapsing into is wife's arms for support. She returns the embrace, but we see in Maggie's face her confusion, compassion, and frustration all wrapped together.

The supporting players, including Ileana Douglas as the hypnotist/sister-in-law, Kevin Dunn, Conor O'Farrell as neighbors, and Zachary David Cope as Tom and Maggie's little boy, round-out an expert cast.

"Stir"'s only flaws occurs at the climax when - I won't reveal too much - one character does something that makes sense only because the plot requires it to happen. This leads to an awkward and somewhat unsatisfying denouement followed by an extra moment of faux creepiness that really isn't necessary. Sadly, these oversights by the filmmakers may have lead to a substantial decrease at the box-office; I've noticed that audiences are somewhat fickle, and a flubbed finale in an otherwise exemplary movie can lead to disaster. Take "The Abyss" as a perfect example. I heard for weeks afterward the same critique: "Yeah, it was a pretty cool movie, but the ending was kind of lame."

Audiences, too, may have noticed some similarities between "Stir" and "The Sixth Sense." While it is true that Hollywood is the rip-off capital of the world, the similarities between these two ghost stories are completely coincidental. More, the comparisons, if anything, makes each a great companion piece for the other.

Though it's not as frightening as the two other big horror hits of '99 ("The Blair Witch Project" and the aforementioned "Sixth Sense"), it is a high-quality spookfest on par as those two, as well as "The Innocents" and the original version of "The Haunting." I highly recommend it.
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Old 02-16-2001, 11:36 AM
Brilliant review night watchman!! I truly thought that this movie was ALOT better than the "Sixth Sense".
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Old 02-17-2001, 10:34 PM
I'll say it before and I'll say it again, "Stir Of Echoes" kicks "The Sixth Sense"'s ass...

Great outline brother...I love the use of the graveyard, the red tinted colring when he senses something, the dead girl, the boy beats the kid from "The Sixth Sense" and Bacon, Bacon, Bacon....great shit...probably more of an 8/10 for me though...

"Stir Of Echoes" references Incredible Shrinking Man, The (1957), "Bonanza" (1959), "Mannix" (1967), Exorcist, The (1973), "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" (1993)...

I thought this was kind of interesting...Brock

Movie Reviews: Stir Of Echoes
If Sixth Sense, The (1999) is going to have a rival, it may be another film about a boy who can see dead people, many film writers suggest in their reviews of Stir of Echoes (1999) today (Friday). The film, writes Jay Carr in the Boston Globe, "is a solidly crafted and perfectly respectable supernatural thriller that has the bad luck to follow the higher-impact Blair Witch Project, The (1999) and Sixth Sense, The (1999) into the marketplace. Unfairly perhaps, but inevitably, compared with those films, it's a bit earthbound and lacking in joltage, even though it stacks up competitively enough on a point-by-point comparison." Steve Murray in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution agrees: "Besides having the wooziest title of the year it also has the worst timing. It might have seemed intriguing had it landed in theaters before Blair Witch Project, The (1999) and Sixth Sense, The (1999) gave us new twists on the spooky movie genre." But Janet Maslin in The New York Times calls Stir of Echoes (1999) "another thriller that packs a spooky wallop as it conjures an unseen world within reach." "Okay, so it's not Sixth Sense, The (1999) -- which is one of the year's best films," comments Rod Dreher in the New York Post, "but Sixth Sense, The (1999) fans may well appreciate this satisfyingly eerie genre effort." Bob Strauss credits the new movie for doing things "that few horror films even think of, like portraying working-class life in detail or examining the fallout a haunting might really have on family relationships. ... Along with that, performances are consistently excellent. Kevin Bacon strikes another new chord in his unassuming but increasingly impressive career." [img]/ubb/wink.gif[/img]
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Old 02-20-2001, 08:26 PM
I totally agree about Stir of Echoes.It was so much better than the Sixth sense,that I hate to even mention them together.The scene where Bacon leans forward on the couch and leans back to find the girl sitting there completely caught me off guard.Its not easy to get a scare or fright anymore.It seems like every scary trick has been tried a hundred million times.Im sick of movies of people who dont know to look over their shoulder,and especially the ones where only one person knows the real killer and every other cop or detective,or the family or friends hates that persons guts.I know it adds tension to the movies,but Damn,does it have to be in almost every movie made today?
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Old 02-21-2001, 06:28 PM
right on playgames... it would seem that lots o' schmoes dig "Stir" over "Sense"...I think that's just plain good ol' sensibility... all those shots of paranormal activity were just downright sweet...
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Old 02-21-2001, 10:20 PM
I'm not really mad, I just wanted to test that out.

You know, I did enjoy "Echoes" better than "Sense," but I gotta adimit that "Sense" - I won't say scared me more, but it unnerved me more.

Honestly, I could see most of the scares in "Echoes" coming. That didn't diminish the movie for me. I love it. But "Sense's" ghosts seemed more threatening, as if they were so swept up in their own anger or grief they could trap anyone else who came near them in it too. Spooky.

[This message has been edited by the night watchman (edited 02-21-2001).]
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Old 02-22-2001, 02:29 AM
Great review Nightdude, I enjoyed this movie immensely, only on video, however. That cinema
hypnosis scene must have looked great on the big screen.
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Old 02-22-2001, 07:06 PM
T.Dammit...I still remember the first time I saw this flick on the big screen, and it is a really worthy silver screen film. The cinematography is pretty damn good and parts are amazingly surreal and swampy...great stuff...
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