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'Echoes' a poor copy of 'Sixth Sense'


Arizona Daily Wildcat

Courtesy of Artisan Entertainment Kevin Bacon begins to frighten wife Kathryn Erbe with his erratic behavior following his newfound clairvoyant powers in Artisan Entertainment's new release, "Stir of Echoes."

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
September 17, 1999

"Stir of Echoes" is not "The Sixth Sense." Yes, they both have little boys that speak to dead people. Yes, characters can see their breath when a ghost is near. Yes, the ghosts need the humans to do things for them. But no, they are not the same.

"Stir of Echoes" (The great title gets no justification from the film) is the story of Tom Witzky, a blue-collar schlub played convincingly by Kevin Bacon. Through the means of a post-hypnotic suggestion planted by his sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), he becomes a "receiver."

Receivers are people whose minds are open to all the supernatural goings-on in the world. So poor Tom is witness to some pretty gruesome sights that he can't shake, and the only way to make them go away is to figure out the mystery behind them, which is how he spends the entire movie.

These mysterious visions do provide for some very scary moments, though. Director David Koepp effectively uses camera work to scare the audience, panning slowly to reveal a ghost or other scary sight in an otherwise mundane scene. And he is smart enough to not use musical cues to prepare the audience for something scary that is about to show up. When ghosts suddenly appear in the foreground, the viewer is actually somewhat surprised.

The most frightening scenes are when Tom's visions are intercut with the real world scenes, which slyly create tension and suspense. These scenes, however, just end up being anticlimactic. The director builds suspense, but then just as the action is about to peak, the audience is sadly let down.

The movie is at its sharpest and most effective when it focuses on the visions, but everything that happens in between is unnecessary and uninteresting to watch. His wife's pregnancy, his ambitions for a better life and all the lame sex jokes are all pointless filler.

The film would have done itself a service to focus less on the relationship between Tom and his wife and focus more on the father-son relationship. Tom's son, Jake, played with wide-eyed innocence by Zachary David Cope, is largely ignored throughout the film. He is reduced to a flat character whose thoughts are never heard. The opening images of the movie show Jake speaking directly into the camera as if to a ghost. While this is one of the more wonderfully spooky, engaging scenes of the film, by the second half Jake has been forgotten, relegated to the background in favor of a focus on his parents.

Again, "Stir of Echoes" is not "The Sixth Sense." It lacks that killer ending and a kid who can scare the hell out of people just by whispering. However, "Stir of Echoes" does acknowledge the conventions of the horror genre without lapsing into "Scream"-like irony. Instead it plays with those audience expectations to create a uniquely frightening experience. If only it did that more often.

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