Since Adam already wrote about Sixth Sense and I don’t have to, today I’m posting about that other 1999 ghost flick featuring a kid who sees Dead People. The oft overlooked but much more entertaining Stir of Echoes. At least, I think it’s more entertaining.
And hey, it’s another Richard Matheson story! Richard Matheson stories rule! Like Pit and The Pendulum. Or the other one that I haven’t written about yet. Oh yeah, there’s more Matheson coming. Don’t you worry about that for one little second.
Quick warning, watch out for the huge spoiler after the last picture. If you haven’t seen this yet.
Stir of Echoes – USA, 1999. Dir. & Screenplay David Koepp. Starring Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Zachary David Cope, Illeana Douglas, Jennifer Morrison.
1999 was an interesting year for supernatural horror. With The Blair Witch Project and Sixth Sense, we saw a resurgence in smart, scary movies. Combined the influence coming in from Asia with 1998’s Ringu, the horror genre was set up for a whole decade of great ghost stories. I mean sure, The House on Haunted Hill remake happened in 1999 as well but thankfully that style did not come to dominate the genre.
With the market becoming slightly saturated, a lot of people missed David Koepp’s foray into the haunted house story, his adaptation of Richard Matheson’s Stir of Echoes. Starring Kevin Bacon (I know) and Kathryn Erbe, Stir of Echoes is a great little movie, smarter than the Sixth Sense, and definitely worth revisiting.
For those of you who don’t remember (or never saw it), Stir of Echoes is about working class Tom, his wife Maggie, and their 5-year-old son Jake. At a party one night, Tom is hypnotized by Maggie’s hippy sister Lisa. Almost immediately he begins having strange vision and later finds out that Lisa planted the suggestion that he “open his mind” while he was under hypnosis. In doing so, she opened a door in his brain. And something’s coming through.
What I love so much about this movie is that it takes these three people in this normal, suburban Chicago neighborhood and throws them into this completely foreign experience. The conflict then becomes not just dealing with the strange events but also dealing with each other in the face of the supernatural. Will Tom rise to the challenge of helping a ghost who gets angrier and angrier as more time passes? Will Maggie be able to hold her family together? This family’s struggle is as much a central part of this film as the haunting is.
While not nearly as frightening as The Shining, David Koepp definitely and, I think, purposefully explores very similar themes. A man trying to prove he’s worth something, a woman who just wants to protect her family, and a boy who sees more than either of them realize. And then you’ve got the psychic cop who talks to Jake in his mind. Like Dick Halloran talking to Danny in The Shining. Get it?
Tom is a man finding himself reaching midlife not where he expected. Maggie is a hard working woman whose family is the anchor in her life. Their conflicts revolve around the same point and yet they’re ultimately at odds with each other. As Tom wants to prove he’s something more than ordinary, he puts into question the value of the life Maggie holds dear. The test for these two people is whether or not their love is strong enough to carry them through the crisis in their lives.
As the story progresses, Koepp builds the tension. He places more emphasis on the growing sense of unease than the easy scares. While some of the special effects don’t hold up particularly well, Koepp does such a good job in creating an atmosphere of dread and a sense of foreboding that it’s easy to forgive the effects.
Unfortunately, Koepp eventually goes for more action in the final act and the ending is a little silly. I liked it well enough the first time I saw this but it doesn’t really hold up on a second viewing. It’s alright though, the ending by no means ruins what’s come before. Even if it’s not completely satisfying in the, Stir of Echoes is still a really solid entry into the haunted house game.
Plus! Teenage ghost girl is totally Emma Swan! You Once Upon A Time fans know what I’m talking about. It made me excited.
It’s a SPOILER.
I absolutely love how in the end, Tom finds Samantha’s body hidden behind the brick wall in the basement. It’s so gothic and Edgar Allen Poe and all of my favorite parts of the genre. She’s buried in the wall! Also, he had to dig up his entire backyard, living room, and basement to find her. It’s hilarious, clever, and fantastic.