Stir of Echoes (1999)

(Release Date: September 10, 1999)

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J.C. Maçek III... 

Horror Floor'!
J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!!!

Like a lot of people, I passed on Stir of Echoes during its theatrical release, due, in no small part, to the great success of a very similar film released just before this one called The Sixth Sense! To be fair, Stir of Echoes is not quite as good as its more successful screen-mate, but neither is it derivative of works like The Sixth Sense, nor is it in any way a bad movie. In short, missing it was a mistake.

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Part of the 2009 Summer of Horror!
Summer of Stirring up Echoes!

Based on a popular entry in the works of the great author Richard Matheson, Stir of Echoes was written and directed by David Koepp and featured a cast of recognizable (and soon-to-be-recognizable) actors in a weird, working-class haunted house flick. While "Haunted House Flick" certainly does qualify as a valid descriptor of Stir of Echoes, there is no boogeyman in the closet or flying toy swarm to be seen here. This is a much more intelligent and high-minded film than a lot of the stories that bear that moniker. Stir of Echoes is so often compared to The Sixth Sense because of its themes and much less so because of its content.

Our film focuses largely on the character of Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon), a somewhat oblivious Chicago lineman who doesn't get that his hot wife Maggie (the erstwhile naked Kathryn Erbe) is pregnant or that his young son Jake (Zachary David Cope)... sees dead people!

But to be fair, the man has a lot on his mind, from his broken dreams of being a rock star to his all-consuming job to the maintenance he has to keep up with on the house he's renting from buddy Harry Damon (Connor O'Farrell). The thing is, he's about to have a lot of the stuff on his mind completely replaced by something else.

While at a neighborhood party, Tom shoots his skeptical mouth off just a little bit too much about his sister-in-law's mystical beliefs. Therefore, said sister-in-law Illeana Douglas' Lisa Weil) agrees to hypnotize Tom to prove to him the whole thing is legitimate. The bad thing is... that it works. Tom is almost immediately met with a scene of intense horror at a place that looks a lot like his home. Once he gets home, he realizes that intense horror is the new name of his new game! It seems that Jake's wild imagination and make-believe friends are neither wild, nor make-believe because after his hypnosis, Tom's mind is rent open and he, too, can see dead people!

It's about that time that Tom's life goes into a tailspin. He can no longer relate to the rest of the world or even attend his job with great regularity and Maggie herself is beginning to feel like the third wheel in Jake and Tom's exclusive club. Meanwhile, Jake and Maggie begin to encounter strange people who know too much, like Neil the Cop (Eddie Bo Smith, Jr.) and Tom begins to have hallucinations about his good friend Frank (Kevin Dunn), Frank's son Adam (Chalon Williams) and most especially the strange, ghostly presence of a teenage girl who may or may not be an hallucination herself!

The real question becomes whether or not Tom has truly gone mad in his singular quest and if any of this is real at all. The mystery thickens and builds to a fascinating, if disturbing finish that doesn't echo The Sixth Sense at all.

Koepp takes his time to play with his visuals here and pulls of some really great looking and shocking moments. The two hypnotism scenes take the surreal cake in this scary movie, but a good deal of the dream sequences and hallucinations both disturb and distract the viewer from the true mystery therein. Some of Koepp's special effects were (we learn from the Blu-Ray Commentary) quite cheap, while others proved to be state of the art. It's a credit to Koepp and his special effects team that it's very hard, if not impossible, to tell the difference between these. Koepp also has a keen eye for horror knowing when it's okay to use a startle-tactic and when to immerse the audience in the thick suspense of the film.

Similarly, the acting is all-around quite good from our principals to our supporting characters to our indespensible plot-anchors like actress Liza Weil, actor Steve Rifkin and the excellent Jennifer Morrison! Kevin Bacon is obviously a very recognizable actor, as any "Six Degrees" player can prove time and time again, but he is also successful in becoming Tom Witzky with a flawless accent and an amazing understanding of the character's pathos.

With all of this said, there are stretches of the film that feel overlong and building to something without enough substance in the here and now. That's not to say that even those scenes are unimportant, but some viewers might excuse themselves for popcorn or bathroom breaks and still come back having missed little. Further, there are a few moments that feel contrived or stretched to fit around the plot Koepp wanted to extract from Matheson's novel. There are no wastes of time in this movie but there are a few blemishes in this overall quality creepy film.

Make no mistake about Stir of Echoes, while this is no festival of violence or nasty experiment in depravity or pain like a lot of films these days, this one is not shy about showing blood or overt frights here, there and everywhere. Primarily the suspense is what works best in this film, but there are a few startles, bloody shocks and overall inducements to discomfort. This makes the ending that much more rewarding, yes, but be aware that there are both supernatural shocks and real world disturbances colliding in Stir of Echoes to paint the viewer into a surreal corner and offer up a few "There but for the Grace of God" utterances before the final credits roll.

Admittedly, Stir of Echoes isn't perfect. It's not even the best Haunted House adaptation from Richard Matheson (see the Matheson-penned The Legend of Hell House for that one)! However, it is often unfairly marginalized and passed up when it should be enjoyed for its own merits. It may not have made a big splash at the box office, but Stir of Echoes gets Four Stars out of Five at! One never knows what mysteries might be found when one moves into a new, old house. Just be aware... if the name Richard Matheson is anywhere on the deed, you might be looking at something scarier than you know. See you in the next reel, spooks!

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Stir of Echoes (1999) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III
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And for the fact that the last time he proclaimed that he could see dead people
He was committed for two months.
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And to think that Jennifer Morrison went on to give birth to Captain Kirk!
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