Cheap thrills

Six degrees of solid Bacon.

ON THE SURFACE, Stir of Echoes has a lot in common with a certain other supernatural flick you may have seen recently: a boy who sees dead people; the ghost of a girl who needs help from the other side; a male movie star as the protagonist who must figure everything out; his wife, who must remain clueless for most of the film. But Stir of Echoes moves much faster than its Blair Witch-ousting counterpart, and tries—with varying levels of success—to be an all-out thriller, utilizing the same "suddenly there's something that wasn't there a second ago" approach as The Sixth Sense, only more of it.

Stir of Echoes

directed by David Koepp

starring Kevin Bacon

now showing at Pacific Place, Metro, others

Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon), a lifetime Chicago Southsider and blue-collar Social Distortion fan, allows his sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas, who is annoyingly "witchy") to hypnotize him at a party, which results in strange hallucinations. His son, Jake, is already chatting with dead folk at the movie's outset and tells his daddy not to fear it, though Tom has no idea what "it" is. The first third of the film deals with Tom's visions, sometimes just images that flash on the screen and are gone—blood in a glass of water, a fingernail breaking—sometimes extended sequences. Elements of his visions start to come true shortly after he sees them.

Here, the film is jumpy, unsettling, and thoroughly engaging. It's unclear how the images relate to each other, much less to Tom, and the tension escalates between Tom and his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) as he becomes more and more obsessed with his visions, especially—you guessed it—the ghost of a teenage girl, who appears one night on the couch.

Admittedly, there are some cheap scares. I'm not a big fan of films that add screaming to the soundtrack in order to heighten the shock. A film like this has enough going on psychologically to carry the mood without resorting to such tactics; fortunately, Erbe and Bacon do a fine job balancing the film's manipulative theatrics with solid performances.

We discover that Tom is now a "receiver" and is tuned in to the frequency of the netherworld. The girl, it turns out, is someone from the neighborhood who disappeared some time back and has been trying to get Jake to help her. It is around the time we are given this information that the film gives up on being suggestive and haunting in the psychological sense and instead goes about solving the crime. The third act is pure Hollywood: The guilty parties are discovered, they try to cover their tracks, people start pulling guns, etc.

Director David Koepp (who also adapted the screenplay from the novel by Richard Matheson) is no stranger to the crowd-pleasing thriller, as is evidenced in his screenplays for Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible, and he lets a fascinating third of a movie go to waste here. Not that Stir of Echoes doesn't deliver a booming crescendo of resolution—it does. It's just that Koepp reels his investments in before they get too risky, and the film's concession to open-endedness, a cacophony of voices rising as we watch Jake's pensive face, feels tacked on at best.

 
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