Stir of Echoes


          In life, timing is everything. The summer of 1999 was dominated by
  the little movie that could (
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT) and the
  I-can't-believe-it-I-need-to-see-that-again thriller
THE SIXTH SENSE. As
  the millennium approaches, audiences seemingly want to be scared when
  they go to see a film, but contrary to the thought in Hollywood, they don't
  necessarily want to be inundated with special effects. And since this summer
  also marked the centenary of the birth of Alfred Hitchcock, arguably the
  most artistically successful director of thrillers in cinema history, it all
  dovetails quite nicely. The issue of timing comes into play because Artisan
  (the company that distributed
BLAIR WITCH) also released the well-made,
  if flawed,
STIR OF ECHOES, written and directed by David Koepp.

          In adapting Richard Matheson's 1958 novel, Koepp has skillfully
  maintained the chill factor, despite the sometimes transparent storyline.
  The film opens with an adorable child, Jake (Zachary David Cope), playing
  in the bath and seemingly talking to himself. When he turns and directly
  looks into the camera and says "What's it like to be dead?", the audience
  is clued to the film's supernatural themes. His parents, Tom (Kevin Bacon)
  and Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), are preparing to attend a neighborhood party.
  In relatively quick bold strokes, the audience is given the background it
  needs on these characters: the sisters Maggie and Lisa (Illeana Douglas)
  are close; Lisa and Tom have a prickly relationship and Maggie is pregnant.
  Tom and Maggie head off to the party where late in the evening, Tom
  challenges Lisa to hypnotize him. She makes a post-hypnotic suggestion
  that he keep his mind open, which unleashes his subconscious and sets
  up the remainder of the story. To reveal any more would ruin the fun of
  the film.

          Koepp made his feature directorial debut with
THE TRIGGER EFFECT,
  another psychological thriller that turned on an unnamed disaster that
  brought out the worst or the best in people. Building on the promise shown
  with his first film and working with stronger material, he has crafted a tense,
  atmospheric character study of a man possessed by a need to know the truth
  and his concerned and loving wife. Unfortunately, Koepp the writer lets
  down Koepp the director. There are plot strands that are introduced that
  aren't developed, like Maggie's pregnancy and a mysterious policeman who
  recognizes a kindred spirit in Jake. Still, these deficits are offset by the
  superlative performances of the leads. Despite his leading man looks,
  Bacon has seemed to thrive playing character types and Tom gives him
  a chance to display his range as he moves from skeptic to dogged pursuer
  of the truth. As Maggie, who despite her confusion struggles to hold her
  family together, the gifted Erbe has never been better. If there is any
  justice, this film will move her to the forefront of top leading actresses.
  Douglas brings a wry comic spin to her character and makes an indelible
  impression in her few scenes. Seven-year-old Cope offers one of the more
  believable children's performances, his wide-eyed innocence and matter-of-fact
  delivery lacking the cloying qualities of some other kid performers. There's
  also fine supporting work from Connor O'Farrell and Kevin Dunn, as neighbors,
  and in pivotal roles Jennifer Morrison and Liza Weil (although I wish Koepp
  had given the latter more to do -- as she demonstrated in
WHATEVER, she
  can be a potent screen presence).

          As a screenwriter Koepp has been the purveyor of popular
  entertainmentS (
JURRASIC PARK, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) some of
  which strains credulity. As a director, he has proven a fine handler of
  actors. He also knows how to manipulate images to effect (aided
  immensely by Fred Murphy's cinematography, Jill Savitt's fine editing
  and the superlative work of the various sound crews) and there are a
  number of edge-of-your-seat ones in the first half of this film. As the
  story peters out and it becomes obvious where it is heading, the faults
  in the script are glossed over by the fine acting.
STIR OF ECHOES
  
 may not be perfect but it proves to be one heckuva ride.


                          Rating:                 B-
                          MPAA Rating:        R for violence, sexuality and language
                          Running time:       99 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.