Riding the current wave of supernatural thrillers, Stir of Echoes is one of the better of the bunch. Though much in the film seems familiar, it still is intriguing to watch.
Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) is a blue-collar lineman living in what seems to be a normal Chicago neighborhood. He and his pregnant wife, Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), barely notice that their son, Jake (Zachary David Cope), has routine chats with the dead.
However, after attending a party where Maggie’s sister, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), hypnotizes him, Tom discovers the paranormal world into which his son has tapped. Tom begins having psychic visions and disturbing thoughts, and has no way to control them.
His psychic abilities become an obsession, and he ignores his job, Maggie, and everything else to figure out why he sees what he sees. In particular, the ghost of a young woman haunts his thoughts, and he struggles to discover what she wants.
Writer-director David Koepp, who worked under Steven Spielberg in the two Jurassic Park films, bestows an oddly Spielbergian flavor to Stir of Echoes. The film feels as if Roy Neary from Close Encounters of the Third Kind has gotten mixed up with the events of Poltergeist.
The supernatural imagery in Stir of Echoes is appropriately creepy, occasionally inspiring a visceral reaction. Unlike the recent film, Stigmata, the disorienting quick cuts are used to highlight the strange events, rather than being liberally sprinkled throughout the movie. The end result is a much more powerful and eerie experience.
It’s difficult to review Stir of Echoes without making reference to the other recent supernatural ghost thriller, The Sixth Sense. Both prominently feature children who can speak to chilly ghosts, and an atmosphere of gloom amid normality. However, it’s difficult to call Stir of Echoes simply a copycat film. Not only were the two produced simultaneously, but Stir of Echoes is based on Richard Matheson’s novel from 1958. The coincidences are just coincidences, and on the whole, though not as meticulously structured, Stir of Echoes is a slightly better film.
The biggest problem with Stir of Echoes is that its scope is not as strong as its premise seems to suggest. We’re given glimpses into a bizarre world of the supernatural, and yet the film shrinks to focus on one event which, while disturbing, is not as compelling. Even the interesting initial focus on Jake is brushed aside as the film becomes the story of Tom.
Kevin Bacon gives amiable performance, even though he drowns it in a thick Chicago accent. As his befuddled wife, Kathryn Erbe wanders through the film as if she’s bitter that she’s being left out of the action.
Stir of Echoes is an interesting supernatural thriller, although, at times, it is a bit derivative. The single-minded focus on the plight of Tom and the ghost, however, limits the effectiveness of the film.