October 11, 2012

Stir of Echoes (1999)

"After being hypnotized by his sister in law, a man begins seeing haunting visions of a girl's ghost and a mystery begins to unfold around her."

Lest we forget what Hallowe'en is really about, it's back to ghosties again with "Stir of Echoes". Although it was overshadowed at the time it came out by "The Sixth Sense", "Stir of Echoes" now stands as the better of the two films.

Very superficially, "Stir of Echoes" and "The Sixth Sense" contain similar subject matter: a creepy little kid who can see ghosts, a murder mystery, and a twist ending. The big differences are that "Stir of Echoes" is set in a far more blue collar environment, the emphasis is more on a psychic adult, and it's not rated PG-13. Given the choice between a PG-13 or an R-rated ghost story, I think most of us would now go with the latter.

Based on a book by Richard Matheson but updated with a modernised screenplay written by the director (David Koepp), "Stir of Echoes" is a very nicely paced thriller which brings out the best from its main characters while not exactly skimping on the supporting cast either. Obviously, Kevin Bacon's character, Tom Witzky, is who the story is focused on, but this isn't just another Kevin Bacon vehicle. Underneath the ghost story is a movie about relationships, and everyone gets a chance to shine no matter how big or small their roles.

As you can tell from the picture above, "Stir of Echoes" has quite a few creepy moments yet it isn't really scary. There are even some genuinely light-hearted touches too. The tone is set when Tom's son, Jake, tells says, "Don't be afraid of it, Daddy." Thus, rather than being terrorised by ghosties as would be more usual, Tom and the audience are encouraged to embrace the existence of the supernatural on a more rational level. It doesn't hurt that the ghostly girl is kind of hot too.

Of course, Tom (Kevin Bacon) still seems to become deranged and obsessional to anyone around him who doesn't understand what he's going through. He's the "everyman" character who we can can all identify with but really wouldn't want to be even if it it meant having the gorgeous Kathryn Erbe as a wife. The characterisation in "Stir of Echoes" is multi-layered and almost perfect. For those of us who moan when there are no characters to empathize with in a movie, "Stir of Echoes" has an abundance of them.

Tom's relationship with Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) is stretched to breaking point, but to her credit, she stands by her man. Her character does get used in a scene which is very reminiscent of "The Shining" to clumsily bring more information about Tom's psychic abilities into the story, but there's a lot more to her than that.

The women in "Stir of Echoes" really deserve a whole article devoted to them on their own. They are all very strong characters who are more than just in the background to suffer the whims of their seemingly "man-child" partners. I'll write a bigger piece about them later, but suffice it to say that Illeana Douglas (who plays Tom's sister-in-law) is also an absolute joy to watch in this movie.

As usual with any kind of mystery, I'm going to cut this short in case I give away too many spoilers. If you've never seen it before or haven't watched it for some time, I recommend that you add "Stir of Echoes" to your Hallowe'en viewing.

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