Stir of Echoes

Directed by David Koepp
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Illeana Douglas, Eddie Bo Smith, Jr.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, sexuality and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
September 10, 1999

Artisan Entertainment made the deal of the century when they bought the distribution rights to The Blair Witch Project. They now appear to be developing a keen specialty: the independent horror/comedy.

Kevin Bacon plays Tom Witzky, an average Joe who works for the telephone company in Chicago. His son, Jake (Zachary David Cope), seems to have an imaginary friend named Samantha that he talks to. Neither Tom nor his wife, Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), pay much attention, and they go to a neighborhood party. Maggie's sister, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), hypnotizes Tom in front of evrybody at the party to show off her new found skill. After he comes to, Tom starts having startling visions.

Eventually, he starts to see Samantha (Jennifer Morrison) himself. He becomes obsessed with figuring out why he and Jake are haunted by her. At the risk of alienating Maggie, he stays home all day, every day, apparently going insane.

What looks like an ill-timed The Sixth Sense-like film, actually turns out to be a far superior work of horror, with a terrific sense of humor. It reminded me more of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Shining (which are two of my favorite films of all time). Stir of Echoes doesn't quite live up to those, but it is still quite good.

The key to the quality of the film is the performances. Bacon makes a good leading man, and is not overshadowed by the talents of Cope (who had a brilliant debut). Douglas is always an assett, continuing her reign as an indie goddess. If Hitchcock were alive today, he would certainly be making films with these people (not to mention Richard Dreyfuss and Jack Nicholson). He would also appreciate the ability of writer/director David Koepp to effectively combine horror, humor, and suspense. Most importantly, Koepp knows when to use special effects, and when to use editing to create these elements.

I hope that this film won't receive a backlash after the amazing success of The Sixth Sense. It deserves to be seen, and would have been a much bigger hit if it came out earlier. Then again, people might realize that a film that is good from beginning to end is better than a film that has a suprise ending, but is otherwise weak.

Just a little comment: this film, like The Haunting, uses computer imaging to create "frosty" breath. I just saw the special 25th anniversary edition of The Exorcist, which had a little making-of documentary. William Friedkin actually turned the set into a sub-zero refrigerator so we could see Max von Sydow and Jason Miller breathing, and it looks much more convincing. Of course, Friedkin was crazy enough to do something like that to get the performances right, not just the look.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Stir of Echoes (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan