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Movie Review - Stir of Echoes
Stir of Echoes is a psychological horror movie released in 1999, starring Kevin Bacon. It is based on a 1950s novel by the same name.
The story opens with Tim Witzky, a telephone worker, and his wife, newly pregnant Maggie, as they attend a neighborhood party. During the festivities, Tim talks Maggie's new-age friend Lisa into hypnotizing him, hoping that he can prove her supernatural beliefs to be nonsense. ("What's the worst that can happen?" he says. Unwise words to utter in a horror movie. Or any movie, really.) Instead of the amusing hippie baloney that he was expecting, Tim has a frightening vision while he is under, and awakens to find out that he spent the last hour in an unusually deep hypnosis.
The visions continue to plague him over the next few days, with Tim seeing a violent scuffle on the floor, a boy killing himself with a gun, and his friend Frank making odd comments about Tim and his wife being the targets of murder. He begins to develop a closer relationship with his son Jake, who has the ability to see and talk to ghosts. The clues Tim receives in his visions eventually convince him to search for the body of a teenage girl who disappeared six months prior, and he uncovers a terrible neighborhood secret about her fate.
Many horror movies happen at a snail's pace, with a slow buildup and not much of anything supernatural through the first half of the film. Luckily Stir of Echoes gets to the cool stuff right away, starting from the very first scene where Jake is seen in the bath, talking to an unseen ghost. Strange events and confusing clues stack up quickly, weaving a mystery around a female spirit who seems to demand that Tim solve her disappearance.
One of my favorite scenes was Tim's hypnosis early in the film. He closes his eyes and listens to Lisa as she talks, and we take a trip inside his head, seeing his mental images as if they were our own. The pictures change as Tim is directed by Lisa to see specific things; a small modern theater morphs into a grandiose mid-century movie house, rows of red seats turn black, and mysterious words appear on a white screen. I've seen scenes like this in cartoons before, but it's rare to get a direct play-by-play view of a person's inner eye in a live action movie.
Another cool effect happens when a babysitter, covertly recommended by one of Jake's ghostly acquaintances, comes to watch the boy while his parents go to a local high school football game (which appears to have the entire population of the town attending. Chicago must take teenage sports very seriously). Every time Tim looks at the babysitter, his entire range of vision goes blood red, accompanied by a dangerous sounding buzzing noise. It was a great way to crank up the suspense and feeling of danger, since it's hard to imagine that red vision could ever mean anything good. And of course there turned out to be good reason for the otherworldly warnings, as the girl proceeds to kidnap Jake after he mentions the name of her missing sister.
There are a few fake-out scenes, where the viewers are led to believe that events are actually happening, only to have Tim wake up with a start and reveal them to be a vision. One of them is a minor body-horror scene involving a bloody tooth being yanked out by the root...prepare to cringe if you're squeamish! There isn't much gore otherwise.
My only complaint is the arguing between Tim and his wife, just because it's so overdone. It's almost guaranteed that the spouse in a horror movie will refuse to believe the main character's paranormal experiences, and watching the same marital strife over and over gets old. Even when Maggie gets evidence that her son and husband may truly have the ability to see ghosts, she still fights Tim over his drive to solve the mystery of his vision of a dead girl. Can we please have a movie where someone actually believes their spouse, instead of fighting them?
Overall, I really enjoyed Stir of Echoes. It's nicely paced, well acted, and doles out the clues in a way that is tantalizingly confusing at first, but allows the viewer to solve the mystery on their own by the climax. (Speaking of climax, a painfully amusing scene happens just after the hypnosis, when Tim gets disturbing visions while making love to his wife and has to stop early. I'm not sure which one of them to feel more sorry for. The spirit world has a terrible sense of timing.)
I give this movie 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. It's a smart, enjoyable film that kept me entertained from start to finish. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a mildly scary horror movie with a big side of mystery on the side. It is available on home DVD and Netflix (along with the sequel, which I will be watching and reviewing shortly!)