Hollywood has decided that this is the season of fright. Ever since "The Haunting" and "The Blair Witch Project" hit theaters in July, there has been a flood of spooky movies at the box office. The most notable of these is "The Sixth Sense," which was the nation's highest-grossing film for five straight weeks. This great picture set the new horror standard, a standard that "Stir of Echoes" simply does not meet.
Based on the novel by Richard Matheson, "Stir of Echoes" tells the story of Tom Witzky, a man who has lived in Chicago his whole life. Tom sees himself as too ordinary, and he wishes for an exciting change of pace. He gets more than he bargained for when he is hypnotized by Lisa, his eccentric sister-in-law. While Tom is mesmerized, Lisa unknowingly opens a door to his psyche that was meant to remain closed. Now Tom is relentlessly haunted by visions of a neighborhood girl who has been missing and presumed dead for months.
This movie has a good premise, but writer/director David Koepp mishandles it. Koepp has already proved himself as a screenwriter, penning the "Jurassic Park" movies and "Snake Eyes," among others. He is a rather new director, however, and he paces this film too slowly. There are no truly frightening scenes during the first half. Instead, Koepp substitutes noise for suspense, giving the viewer's mind little to feed on. The story is split, and it's hard to tell whether the film should focus on Tom or his son Jake, who can also speak with the missing girl. These factors all add up to a big disappointment.
There are some very competent actors in "Stir of Echoes," but their characters are given nowhere to go. Kevin Bacon stars in his umpteenth movie as Tom. Normally, Bacon can completely merge with his roles; in this film, his actions are often too melodramatic and obvious. Kathryn Erbe ("Oz") is a good actress, but the role of Tom's wife, Maggie, is uninteresting. Two drastically underused characters are Lisa (Illena Douglas) and Jake (Zachary Cope). Perhaps they could have added a much-needed urgency to this movie.
"Stir of Echoes" is actually quite similar to "The Sixth Sense." Both films contain angry ghosts who want help, sudden temperature drops, a gifted child and a growing rift between husband and wife. In fact, I suspect that M. Night Shyamalan (writer/director of "The Sixth Sense") read Richard Matheson's book a few years ago and drew some excellent inspiration from it. I think he wrote a better story and made an excellent movie.
Unfortunately, David Koepp is not as talented as M. Night Shyamalan. Koepp builds a huge setup without offering a satisfying ending, and the movie suffers because of it. Then again, perhaps this picture is just a victim of bad timing. After all, "The Sixth Sense" illustrates how thrilling movies should be made; "Stir of Echoes" is another unconvincing "thriller" in this tired season of fright.
Tom Grabon is a senior at East Aurora High School.