Today’s film is the 1999 Stir of Echoes, a loose (and boy is that meaning applied here with a paintbrush) adaptation of the Richard Matheson book of the same name. I have the Matheson book, and several other Matheson novels, and from what I’ve seen Hollywood just doesn’t know how to adapt the man’s work. Out of the films/books I’ve read there’s the good (Legend of Hell House which I reviewed awhile back), the decent (What Dreams May Come is a worthy effort), the “great movie but it’s not at all the book” (I Am Legend), and the utter shit (The Box). Stir of Echoes falls right before The Box but WELL below anything resembling a good movie. The only way I could recommend this is if you did gathered a bunch of friends together and just bashed it. In rereading my notes I had a lot of exclamation and question marks and I started yelling aloud to the television. Here’s why:
Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) is a family man with a beautiful wife and young son. When his wife’s psychic sister Lisa (Illeana Douglas) hypnotizes him and leaves a post-hynoptic suggestion to “open his mind,” Tom awakens with horrific visions of a young woman beckoning him to help her. As Tom digs deeper into who the girl is, he discovers his son Jake (Zachary David Cope) is also psychic.
The opening scenes of the film provide the only horror you’ll see throughout the entire hour and 45 minutes. We meet little Jake as he’s talking to someone who we can’t see. As he gets out of the tub he looks directly at the camera (aka the unseen person) and says “does it hurt to be dead?” I was thisclose to peeing my pants and thought “Hey, maybe this will be a good movie.” How wrong and naive was I. The problem is all the beats of this movie are established in the film’s opening minutes. Tom is introduced stating emphatically that he wished he wasn’t so “ordinary.” Well gee, wonder how the events of the film will take him beyond being ordinary? Tom even says before being hypnotized “What’s the worst that could happen?” Seriously! Seeing as how this wasn’t in the romance section of Blockbuster I’m assuming there’s a LOT that can go wrong. There’s the creepy little kid who can see dead people. There’s the bizarre ghost girl pleading for help but can’t be understood. Come to think of it, this movie is a little too close to the Sixth Sense than I’d like. Someone call up M. Night because I think David Koepp jacked his story and presented a pissed-on version.
Within the first twenty minutes some type of repressed psychic abilities storyline is being presented and the hypnotized segments are something out of Flatliners. Bacon starts the film as a cocky non-believer (SHUN THE NON-BELIEVER) rocking some type of accent that blends Boston by way of douchebag. It’s the same accent he was spouting in Hollow Man…hey that also came out in 1999, must have been a desperate need to pay off a mortgage.
Anyway, Lisa leaves a suggestion while hypnotizing Tom that he will “leave your mind open to everything.” To the audience we all know that doesn’t mean making Tom more liberal or approving, but opening the door to the underworld. Again, the audience gets that but Lisa doesn’t. So when Tom calls her and asks her why she’d leave that type of suggestion she just says “I don’t know, I’ve never done it before!” That’s up there with letting Frenchie from Grease dye your hair! You’ve never done it before so you figured it’d be fun to experiment on your sister’s husband and you’re shocked to discover he’s seeing shit! The truly idiotic statements of the cast doesn’t stop there. Oh now, it doesn’t stop there.
We next meet
Paris Geller Debbie (Liza Weil) who babysits for Jake. Jake starts telling Debbie about how he talks to an unseen girl named Samantha (Jennifer Morrison), who happens to be Debbie’s sister that everyone thinks ran away. Debbie starts to get upset and starts interrogating Jake (the kid’s all of about 7), including grabbing him abusively. She then thinks it’s a great idea to abduct him in the dead of night and run off with him as he screams to be let go. She’s walking through the streets and no one sees this? She takes him to a train station where her mother works and when Tom and his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) find them Debbie gets pissed at the parents because she thinks they know something about her sister. Girl, you’ve kidnapped your charge in the middle of the night. I understand you want answers but you couldn’t have waited or better yet…made a damn phone call from their house!
After that altercation we never see Debbie again but we know Samantha is our ghost girl haunting Tom. When the family gets home little Jake starts talking in a demonic voice. You know that Exorcist, deep-throated voice that no 7-year-old should start talking in or else you’re trying to find the 666 tattooed on his ass. Reasonably enough Tom starts freaking out and asking Jake to recreate the voice. That brings me to annoyance #464 of this movie. The relationships and arguments are all entirely one-sided. Tom starts yelling at Jake and Maggie starts telling Tom he’s nuts and he needs to calm down (mind you the kid was talking like Satan…I think calming down is the last thing he should do). Another argument happens where Maggie says Tom is getting scary and he says she’s crazy. For once, I’d love a horror movie where the couple actually agrees that shit is fucked up.
We run into Lisa again who tells Maggie that she needs to figure out what’s wrong with Tom or else they’re….going to get a divorce? I love that Lisa tells Maggie to find out “why this is happening. ” It’s happening because you opened up his mind to the underworld you dumbass! You’re the one to blame! Yet, no one ever says “hmmm Lisa did this.” Nope, Maggie goes around totally blame free of her stupid sister. It’s eventually revealed…as I mentioned above…that Tom has repressed psychic abilities and is told to dig by the ghost girl. He starts digging in his backyard and when Maggie intervenes Tom rips into a speech taken directly from The Shining. You know that scene in The Shining where Jack (Jack Nicholson) tells Wendy (Shelley Duvall) that he’s working. Well Tom’s speech is pretty much that scene so here it is:
We’re getting close to the end of the film and there’s no ghost girl, so what the hell are we focused on? The ineffectiveness of the scares is what’s sad. There’s a great scary opening and nothing. There’s dream sequences that are meant to confuse the audience. Case in point, Tom goes to visit his neighbor and watches the neighbor’s son kill himself. They’re ineffective because it’s such an over-the-top moment that we all know “it has to be a dream.” As for the ghost girl she’s not malevolent or scary so there’s no reason to fear her. The only “malevolent” thing she does is switch Jake’s cartoons to Night of the Living Dead and as a seven-year-old I’d be totally cool with that. She’s only haunting Tom and even then….it’s not really that bad except for a few nightmares and the inability to screw his wife. If anything Tom becomes a total asshole after getting his psychic powers (much like his turn in Hollow Man where we discovered that invisibility automatically makes you a rapist). Amongst all this the question remains, what is this “stir of echoes” that the title mentions? There’s no echoes, there’s nothing stirring…must be a book thing.
Tom eventually starts drilling through his house while screaming maniacally. Now the camera cuts to the street where we see a lot of neighbors listening and hearing this screaming and drilling (REMEMBER THIS FOR LATER), and the only comment someone makes is “It’s a rented house.” Um, someone could be slaughtered right now….it’d be better if the house was mortgaged?
The big reveal comes when Tom discovers Samantha’s body in the wall. Raise your hand if you DIDN’T expect a body in the wall? The movie flashes back to show that Samantha was mentally challenged and was lured into Tom’s house by two neighbor boys (both of whom have fathers who are Tom’s friend and landlord respectively) who attempt to rape and then kill her. The poor girl is mentally challenged…so her mother’s logical explanation back at the train station was that she ran away? To go back to my earlier point, we see the neighbors all hear Tom’s shouting and drilling yet NO ONE is out and about when Samantha is screaming?
After watching that wonderful scene of two boys attempting to rape and kill a handicapped girl (can you tell that pisses me off that this is a major plot point) Tom goes to confront one of the boys father’s, his friend Frank (Kevin Dunn). Frank says he knew of the murder but didn’t want the boys’ lives ruined “because of her.” I understand wanting to protect your child and defending them, but they tried to rape, and in cold blood, murdered a mentally challenged girl! I really don’t think you can try to justify that with “well they had such bright futures.” The other father, Tom’s landlord Harry (Conor O’Farrell) shows up intent on killing Tom to silence him. I love movies where they assume just killing the one person who knows wantonly is going to solve everything. Especially when you walk in with no protection so they’ll be easily able to trace the murder back to you. And when Maggie shows up Harry just decides to kill her too! Gotta love the ability for anyone to become a multiple murderer in the blink of a plot point. But off course Harry is foiled by Frank (who we assumed killed himself…guess he just arbitrarily wanted to spend the last ten minutes with the corpse) who kills Harry. Frank’s final words are “Cold blood murder. Can’t let that happen here.” Wait, what? Are you talking about Harry’s attempts to kill Tom….your son’s murder of Samantha…or you just murdering two people? That’s how we’re going to end everything?!
Oh well the movie doesn’t end there. Samantha’s soul is at peace, Tom and Jake love being psychic and everyone lives happily ever after. Stir of Echoes is crap! The acting is mediocre, there’s no scares, and the story is just stupid and gross. The film is supposedly nothing like the book if Wikipedia has anything to say about it. There’s far better psychic movies out there. Just don’t see this! Happy Easter everybody!
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Hopefully you guys all noticed the bright shiny poll on the sidebar. Please vote to let me know what type of tournament you’d like to see on the blog. Also thank you to Film-Classics (http://www.film-classics.com/) who have listed me as an affiliate so my posts will be updated on their site. Hopefully you guys are all digging the new review format. I have a few pre-written reviews I’d like to get rid of so I’ll be putting those up during the week.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.