Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ten Days of Terror: Stir of Echoes

Film: Stir of Echoes
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I started looking through the different horror and horror-related films on my various lists to do the two-posts-per-day thing I had planned for the end of October, I knew that I’d be watching Stir of Echoes on Halloween. I love Stir of Echoes and it’s been ages since I had watched it. This is a movie that benefits from both being remembered as good (it is) and from a long time between viewings so that a lot of the specifics can be forgotten.

I really like Stir of Echoes a lot. This is a film that was ignored in 1999 because it was released about six weeks after The Sixth Sense and it has a great number of plot similarities. Primarily it features a young kid who can see dead people. I contend that if the release dates had been reversed that this might well be the movie that people know. I think it’s a superior movie in pretty much every aspect.

Tom (Kevin Bacon) and Maggie Witzky (Kathryn Erbe) have recently moved into a new house in a good Chicago neighborhood with their son Jake (Zachary David Cope). Jake, since the family has moved in, has an invisible friend named Samantha. At a neighborhood party, Tom is taking the piss out of his sister-in-law Lisa (Illeana Douglas), who is involved in a variety of spiritual woo beliefs. Almost on a dare, she agrees to hypnotize him and leaves a post-hypnotic suggestion for him to be “open” to everything around him. What Tom is suddenly open to is Jake’s invisible friend Samantha.

Tom and Maggie go out for the night, leaving Jake in the care of Debbie (Liza Weil), who happens to have a sister named Samantha who went missing about six months previously, not long before the Witzkys moved into the neighborhood. When she learns that Jake’s invisible friend is named Samantha she becomes extremely upset and takes Jake to see her mother. Tom somehow is aware of this and confronts the sitter, but refuses to press charges because he’s seen Samantha in his house. Meanwhile, Jake is spotted by a police officer named Neil (Eddie Bo Smith Jr.) who also appears to have “the eyes” and is able to see beyond the normal world, indicated by the fact that he knows Jake’s name without asking.

As the film continues, Tom draws further and further away from Maggie as he falls further and further into the search for what happened to Samantha (Jennifer Morrison), who still appears to him suddenly, offering him clues to what might have happened to her. And with premonitions of terrible events that seem to be coming true, Tom teeters more and more on the brink of insanity.

There’s a lot to recommend Stir of Echoes, not the least of which is the story. I didn’t realize until this viewing that this was based on a Richard Matheson novel, something that only adds to its credibility. It’s a beautifully written screenplay and focuses less on the scares (although there are some solid ones) and more on the atmosphere and on the characters themselves. Tom and Maggie have a completely believable relationship. They fight and bicker but really are there for each other. Lisa even calls them the perfect couple at one point but their fighting only enhances the reality of their relationship. I also like the way that Jake is written. He understands things as a child would. He’s not wise beyond his years, but there’s a particular depth to him.

There is also a lot of great camera use here and some nice use of effects. They hypnotism scenes happen in a mental movie theater, and both of these sequences are inventive and effective. It’s when the scene shifts from Tom’s hallucinatory reveries back to the real world that the effects work the best and most surprisingly.

Kevin Bacon has always been good about playing regular guys, and Tom Witzky is one of his better performances. I also like Kathryn Erbe, particularly here before she became dowdier for her role on Law and Order: Criminal Intent. I should also admit that I kind of dig Illeana Douglas. I won’t attempt to justify that, so I’ll just leave it there.

What ultimately sells Stir of Echoes for me, though, is the ending. There is a surprising darkness to the final shot of the film, and it works perfectly with the darkness going on through most of the film. Stir of Echoes is a film that trades on its darkness without allowing that darkness to become oppressive. Despite the supernatural elements in the film, it is rooted in reality and in real, tragic characters and circumstances. While it didn’t get the recognition or acclaim of The Sixth Sense, it should have. The characters are better, the story is better, and the ending is far and away better, and doesn’t rely on a twist.

If you haven't seen this, see this. It’s more than worth your time.

Why to watch Stir of Echoes: If this had come out six weeks before The Sixth Sense instead of the reverse, no one would remember The Sixth Sense.
Why not to watch: Because it came out after The Sixth Sense, it’s been forgotten.


  1. Other than the fact that I remember seeing this when it came to VHS I have no memory of what goes on in the movie at all. Perhaps it's that Sixth Sense theory you wrote about. :-)

  2. One of my mom's favorites, which ended up being one of my unsung favorites when I finally watched it. This definitely doesn't get enough attention.

    Dang, now I need to watch this again.

    1. I really like this film a lot because it doesn't go for the sort of happy ending that The Sixth Sense does. Within the context of the film, I think the ending here was what really sells the whole story.