It seems this is the summer for deeply chilling psychological horror movies, and "Stir of Echoes" comes close to giving champs "The Blair Witch Project" and "The Sixth Sense a good run for their money.
A spine-tingler about a blue-collar Chicago joe (Kevin Bacon) who -- after being hypnotized at a party -- becomes an unwilling "receiver" for the wishes of the dead, "Stir of Echoes" yields almost as many goose bumps in its first hour as those other heart-pounding flicks, thanks in part to Bacon's exhausting, frenetic performance.
Once this door to the other side has been opened in his head, he descends into apparent madness as he experiences flashes of violence deaths in his head and hallucinates other horrors, like the ghost of a dead neighbor girl who torments him with rage-filled but vague and apparitional suggestions of just vengeance against her unnamed assailants.
For days on end he sits in silence on the couch where he first spotted her, waiting for another visitation. Hypnotized again to try to clear his head, he receives a message to dig for her body and begins tearing up his yard. Popping pep pills and frequently perplexed, he throws around that "what the hell?!?" double-take he does so well, adding an eerie tweak to it that is both frightening and ever-so-slightly quizzical.
Of course, none of this sits well with his very worried wife (Kathryn Erbe), although his adolescent son (Zachary David Cope) seems strangely at ease with his father's new abilities. "You're awake now, daddy," he says, being almost innocuously spooky. "Don't be afraid of it."
Unfortunately "Echoes," which is based on a book by Richard Matheson, drops the ball with an insulting, pat-on-the-head last act that reeks of a design-by-committee re-write.
The last 20 minutes is full of the kind of maddening loopholes that make most of this genre's entries so feeble. Writer-director David Koepp ("The Trigger Effect") looked to be skillfully sidestepping such pitfalls for most of the movie, but it will be hard for anyone who has seen "Blair," "Sense" (or any other truly suspenseful scare flick) to walk away from this without feeling betrayed after such a promising start.
Salvaged and sold for parts, "Stir of Echoes" has its fair share of strong substantive elements, including Koepp's use of some inventive, unsettling dream and hypnosis sequences and a specter effect in which the ghosts move at a different number of frames per second than their surroundings.
It also boasts Bacon's superb performance as well as the always reliable Illeana Douglas ("Grace of My Heart," "To Die For"), playing his sister-in-law and the amateur hypnotist whose subconscious suggestion that be more open-minded paved the way for the Bacon's terror.
But like Koepp's last screenwriting effort, Brian DePalma's "Snake Eyes," there is a definitive moment at which the movie self-destructs, and its sad to see that happen when "Echoes" was shaping up to be an intensely powerful film.
Run time: 99 mins
In Theaters: Friday 10th September 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $21.1M
Distributed by: Artisan Entertainment
Production compaines: Artisan Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 69 Rotten: 34
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: David Koepp
Starring: Kevin Bacon as Tom Witzky, Zachary David Cope as Jake Witzky, Kathryn Erbe as Maggie Witzky, Illeana Douglas as Lisa Weil, Kevin Dunn as Frank McCarthy, Conor O'Farrell as Harry Damon, Lusia Strus as Sheila McCarthy, Stephen Eugene Walker as Bobby, Mary Kay Cook as Vanessa Damon, Larry Neumann Jr. as Lenny, Jennifer Morrison as Samantha Kozac
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