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