Sunday, September 8, 2013

#1,119. Stir of Echoes (1999)

Directed By: David Koepp

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Illeana Douglas

Tag line: "In every mind there is a door that has never been opened"

Trivia: Jake Witzky watches The Mummy's Shroud on TV when his mother tells him to turn it off. Night of the Living Dead then appears on every channel as he attempts to turn off the TV

Stir of Echoes scared the shit out of me the first time I saw it. A creepy supernatural thriller, it has everything you’re looking for in a ghost movie, and then some.

One night, after having a few drinks at a neighborhood party, working-class stiff Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) convinces his sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), a self-proclaimed therapist, to hypnotize him. Much to everyone’s surprise, Tom actually goes under for a short while, but when he wakes up, he’s not the same man he was a few minutes earlier. As a result of being hypnotized, Tom begins experiencing hallucinations, quick flashes of a violent crime, with no idea what any of it means. Things take an even stranger turn when he comes face-to-face with the ghost of 17-year-old Samantha Kozec (Jennifer Morrison), who’s been missing for 6 months. Tom’s wife, Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), is supportive, yet has a hard time dealing with her husband's increasingly strange behavior, which only intensifies as he gets closer to solving this horrific mystery.

Stir of Echoes features a handful of terrifying moments, as well as an unsettling tone that director David Koepp maintains through much of the film. The jump scares are incredibly effective; after being hypnotized, Tom isn’t able to fall asleep (he can’t even concentrate while making love to his wife). Troubled by a stream of incoherent images, he goes downstairs to clear his mind, only to find he’s not entirely alone. But even when you aren’t jumping out of your seat, Stir of Echoes will have you poised on the edge of it with its tense, ominous mood, which Koepp establishes from the get-go (in the opening scene, Tom’s son, Jake, played by Zachary Taylor Cope, is taking a bath. When Tom leaves the room, Jake, who, as far as we can tell, is completely alone, turns to an empty corner and asks “Does it hurt to be dead?”). As the movie progresses and the central mystery unfolds, Tom finds he has to deal not only with Samantha’s ghost, but the reality of a crime that’s never been solved, including what it means to the community at large (some of his neighbors obviously know more than others, and a few pay a very steep price to protect their secret).

While not as well-known as The Sixth Sense or The Ring, Stir of Echoes is every bit as good as those movies, and better than most others. Dark and unnerving, it’s one hell of a ghost story.

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