Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) feels the walls of his small world slowly closing in around him. His wife, Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), has just announced that she’s pregnant, which means sticking to his blue-collar job instead of playing guitar with his musician friends. His young son, Jake (Zachary David Cope), is a bright but solitary child, more involved in his own fantasy life than with his loving, distracted parents.
The future doesn’t seem to offer anything more than the path Tom’s already on, but everything changes in a flash courtesy of Maggie’s condescending sister, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), a career student dabbling in hypnosis. Ever the skeptic, Tom agrees to let her put him under, but the baffling visions he begins having as the result of being hypnotized turn his sense of reality – and of himself – inside out. To his horror, Tom now sees dead people.
There are certain surface similarities between Stir of Echoes and The Sixth Sense, particularly the very matter-of-fact way both films portray spirits residing alongside the living and the bewilderment that afflicts people who can access this parallel universe. But the films are quite different in their narrative goals. Sixth Sense is about a rationalist – a child psychologist who believes the scientific process can yield tangible changes – who must abandon his belief system to find emotional peace. Stir of Echoes, on the other hand, uses spectral encounters as a way to put family dynamics in sharp relief.
Jake’s "imaginary" friends are actually ghosts, and he tells his extremely freaked-out dad not to be afraid. Meanwhile, the out-of-the-loop Maggie is left to deal with the practical issues of survival and helping her once-reliable husband cope with his altered state.
Writer-director David Koepp (adapting a novel by Richard Matheson) inventively reinterprets the horror genre’s standard visual motifs, cleverly using a movie theater to illustrate Tom’s hypnosis and creating an eerie apparition who seems to have been transplanted from a jerky silent film.
Stir of Echoes is an old story: ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. David Koepp makes it fresh by granting each part of that equation equal measure.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.