Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Stir of Echoes (1999)
Stir of Echoes is a film which didn’t get as much attention when it was released, which I think is kind of a shame. I have always enjoyed it, one of my favorite horror offerings from that time period. Unfortunately, as is often the case in situations like this where timing works against you, I think that this movie was unlucky enough to be lost somewhat in the long shadow cast by a little film known as The Sixth Sense. Being a supernaturally driven film with a child as one of the predominant characters, you knew pretty much right away that there wasn’t much chance of both these films being really successful. And as history has obviously shown, the public was much more drawn to M. Night Shyamalan’s film than this.
And this is not going to be descending into a discussion of which movie is better. I enjoyed both films and honestly I don’t think they even really belong in the same category together. Granted, they both deal with ghosts to some extent but I would argue that in the case of The Sixth Sense, the existence of ghosts is almost irrelevant to the heart of what the story is about. Stir of Echoes is a pure, cool ghost story.
And to me, what really set this film up for success was in packing it full of talented, hard-working actors who were at the top of their game.
I think Kevin Bacon is one that is easy to dismiss because he has done so many movies. And I’ll be the first to admit that not all the films he does are great. There are definitely some stinkers in there. But he’s always struck me as someone who just loves to work and he’s one of those actors who is going to throw everything into a role. He also seems to have an aptitude for portraying blue collar type characters. All of this comes together for him to do a really good turn on a great character in this movie.
And for any Law & Order fans out there, the role of Bacon’s wife (Maggie) is excellently done by Kathryn Erbe. I thought she brilliantly portrayed the domestic partner who is pulled in any number of directions as she tries to support her husband (who is clearly going around the bend) as well as protect her son. She must function as a beacon of rationality in a situation that is anything but and she nailed the emotional roller coaster of that
And for as much as kids in movies often aren’t that great, Zachary David Cope actually did a pretty good job. I think getting good performances out of young actors is often about properly framing the context of what they are doing. You don’t have to lay out the excruciating details of the plot to a seven year old and whatever the director did here worked great.
All around, it’s a phenomenal cast. Then newcomer, Jennifer Morrison, was great as the spectral presence in the film. Illeana Douglas did a nice job as the eccentric sister as well as the neighbor, played by Kevin Dunn. I didn’t grow up in Chicago but I have had a ton of family there so the setting and these characters felt very familiar to me.
I loved how the Witzkys in this became a kind of take on the Torrance family from Stephen
King’s, The Shining, minus the abuse and alcoholism. You have a father and son who share a bond over an ability that they don’t fully understand, an ability that is driving the father to insanity. And Mom is doing all she can to just hold it all together. We even get a Dick Halloran type character from Eddie Bo Smith Jr. – another great performance.
I appreciated that this film had both a dose of gritty intensity while at the same time bucking the notion that you can’t also have some positive moments in a story like this. Ultimately this is a family with intensely close bonds to each other which is possibly where the comparison to the Torrances comes to an end.
The mystery inherent in the plot is nearly perfect with the pacing keeping you on the edge while trying to figure out what is happening to these people. One major stumbling block for paranormal type stories like this are the moments when you have to communicate information to the characters. I have taken to calling this the “Google scene” because anymore often we see our characters fleeing to the Internet, performing a simple web search and getting all the information they need. I appreciate the pressure to keep the movie simple but often these scenes don’t work for me. With this movie, the moments in which Tom is able to make headway on this mystery comes off as legit to me Everything in the film that I see comes off as having a logical reason for being there. I never felt like the writers were simply inserting some convenient information for our hero to “find”. And this isn’t all Tom, either. As the essential third part of the equation, the other being their son, Maggie also manages to do some crucial deductions at the eleventh hour, making her much more than just set dressing.
In all, this is a beautifully constructed and crafted film. Is it a bit on the glossy side, maybe a touch superficial feeling for the horror genre? Perhaps. But I’m willing to let that go when held against all the other positives the movie has to offer.
Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page