Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Stir of Echoes

By Marc Savlov

SEPTEMBER 20, 1999: 

D: David Koepp; with Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Zachary David Cope, Illeana Douglas, Jennifer Morrison. (R, 110 min.)

Taken from Richard Matheson's novel of the same name, Stir of Echoes is as much a showpiece for Kevin Bacon's remarkable acting chops as it is a tale of supernatural bugaboos. Matheson, who came to prominence in the Fifties and Sixties penning spare, psychological horror tales such as I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man, and later cut his screenwriting teeth working for Roger Corman and Rod Serling, brought the shadows to the suburbs long before Stephen King popularized that literary conceit. Stir of Echoes is rife with unpleasant events occurring in the most prosaic of places, in this case a close-knit Chicago neighborhood in which every neighbor knows the names of everyone else's kid, wife, and dog. Koepp, who also helmed the terminally underappreciated The Trigger Effect a few years back (in between writing Jurassic Park and its sequel for Stephen Spielberg), clearly has an affinity for Matheson's quiet brand of terror, bringing it all back home in a dreadful welcome wagon. Here, Bacon plays Tom Witzky, a telephone lineman devoted to his wife Maggie (Erbe, Dream With the Fishes) and six-year-old son Jake (Cope). At a block party one night, Maggie's New-Agey sister Lisa (Douglas) convinces Tom to let her hypnotize him, during which she jokingly plants a suggestion in his mind to "open up, don't be so narrow-minded." Better she should have suggested he turn into a chicken every time a bell rings. That post-hypnotic suggestion opens Tom's mind, alright, throwing the doors of perception wide open to all manner of terrifying phantasms and unsettling images that appear to be messages from beyond. Before long, Tom is catching glimpses of an unidentified ghost girl nesting on his couch, and, convinced that he's been contacted by this restless spirit for a definable reason, forsakes everything to appease it. His job forgotten, his wife at wit's end as her husband spirals into seeming madness, Tom begins deconstructing (literally) his house in search of... what? His only link comes from son Jake, whose imaginary friends suddenly appear to be not quite so imaginary. Some viewers may find parallels to M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense in Koepp's film, but in many ways Stir of Echoes is the better work. Shyamalan's film, for all its chills, was a supernatural one-trick pony. Stir of Echoes, with one of the most natural depictions of a young family I've ever seen, is marvelous not in its evocation of horror but in the way it slowly chips away at the mundanities of day-to-day urban living. Erbe has a wonderfully realistic, laid-back appeal, and Bacon, for what it's worth, is in top form, unraveling like a ball of emotional yarn batted about by a malevolent, unseen feline. Surprisingly, Stir of Echoes falls flat during its final third when more prosaic issues of homicide and revenge enter into the story, but right up to that point it manages to sink its chilly fingers deep in the meat of your mind.

3 Stars

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