Stir Of Echoes
Rating -

Horror (US); 1999; Rated R; 99 Minutes

Kevin Bacon: Tom Witzky
Kathryn Erbe: Maggie Witzky
Illeana Douglas: Lisa
Liza Weil: Debbie Kozac
Kevin Dunn: Frank McCarthy

Produced by Judy Hofflund, Gavin Polone and Michele Weisler; Directed and screenwritten by David Koepp; based on the novel "A Stir Of Echoes" by Richard Matheson

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Written by DAVID KEYES

If you haven't noticed lately that the horror genre has suddenly revived itself on our movie screens, then you've likely been living under a rock. The foundation of genuine terror that has so intrigued and manipulated our minds for as long as we've been alive is once again alive and kicking, despite having grown stale and bleak over the past few years. Those that managed to get moviegoeing observation were usually an alliance of thrills and laughs ("Scream" anyone?). Not until "The Blair Witch Project," from this year's Sundance Film Festival, did the genre once again find its roots. Since then, loud noises, creepy misgivings and deafening screams have become more common than seeing a Backstreet Boys music video on MTV.

Oh, but you won't find many of us grumbling. It has been so long since a favorable horror movie has been released that people almost forgot what they were. The last of the greats, of course came in the mid-80s, when the now-renouned Wes Craven produced and directed his cult hit "A Nightmare On Elm Street" for avid teenage movie audiences. Though none this year have quite reached that level, we seem to be headed in the proper direction, as "The Blair Witch Project" engulfed our psychological fears, and the religious trappings of "Stigmata" mesmerized our minds. Only one of the slew, "The Sixth Sense," seems to be attracting audiences that it doesn't deserve. But now comes that movie's distant cousin "Stir Of Echoes," which explores a similar subject, but with more mind-boggling, fearsome results. In other words, it's "The Sixth Sense" with genuine scares.

Our fascination with supernatural details keeps us coming back to ghost stories, and "Stir Of Echoes" has one of the strongest of the year, perhaps because the twist shatters the doubts of its central character. Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) is essentially one of those traditional urban family men, who lives in Chicago, and believes that, unless he can see things and touch them, then they probably don't exist. The word "hypnosis" is brought up one night at a party, when Tom's sister-in-law, a heavily-educated person in the world of psychology, challenges her brother-in-law to accept an offer for hypnosis. He accepts, and within minutes, an irreversible plight has hammered his mind. The hypnosis has, in a way, launched his psychic ability.

Afterwards, there are images that ceaselessly flash in front of his face with volatile effect; we see the image of a young girl standing at a distance, at one point, and a horrendous visage of a tooth in a sink at another. All of these shots are filmed in such cold menacing tones that it's as if they camera is looking at them behind ice. Tom is incessantly disturbed by what he sees, but most importantly, he is paranoid of what he might discover in this state. The girl he sees is one from his own neighborhood. As the script tells us later on, she might have even been murdered.

The allegory between "Stir Of Echoes" and "The Sixth Sense" is far in between certain details, but I found myself referring to the other quite often. In the likelihood of other comparisons, however, I'll save you the trouble and safely say that both movies should not be compared to one another (for various reasons). "The Sixth Sense" is admired far and wide for its difficult performances, but it neither challenges us with a compelling plot or has a decent payoff. Here is a movie, thankfully, that manages to crank up great interest and strong chills, at the same time of keeping distance from the year's other ghost story. David Koepp's alert screenplay does a great job with keeping parallels to Richard Matheson's novel (although not always completely). His characters capture an essence of believability in most situations, and convey the most credible emotions for any given plot twist they are stirred by. The child in the film, another who sees ghost, is especially intriguing, because he bears no similarity to that of Haley Joel Osment from "The Sixth Sense." Whereas Cole was afraid of his gift, this kid seems to be getting along with it just fine. The ghost, I guess, is a friend.

Of course, the movie is not without flaws, either. At 99 minutes, some of the details and dilemmas are stretched beyond their limit, and the movie takes too long in finding its path. Some of the editing, especially during the exchange of discussion between the boy and his invisible friend, is sometimes a bit too dry. Still, "Stir Of Echoes" satisfies in many ways. For someone, like me, who has waited this long for some good scary movies, that should be all that matters.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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