Horror Movie Review: Stir Of Echoes (1999)


If I were to describe a movie in which a young boy has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts, you’d more than likely immediately think of The Sixth Sense. That film went on to be the second highest grossing film of 1999 just behind Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and was highly praised by critics and general moviegoers alike. Less than a month after the release of The Sixth Sense, a movie with a similar premise was released but it was called Stir Of Echoes. There are certainly people out there that believe had Stir Of Echoes not released so closely to The Sixth Sense then it too would be revered. Let’s have a look at the film and see if it’s deserving of such praise…

Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) is a repairman living in a working-class neighbourhood with his pregnant wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and his son Jake (Zachary David Cope). It immediately becomes clear that Jake possesses the ability to commune with the dead. At a party one evening, Tom challenges Maggie’s sister Lisa (Illeana Douglas), a believer in paranormal activity and psychic telepathy, to hypnotize him.

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After putting him under, Lisa plants a post-hypnotic suggestion in Tom urging him to “be more open-minded.” Tom then begins experiencing visions of a violent scuffle involving a girl who he later learns is Samantha Kozac (Jennifer Morrison), a 17 year-old that disappeared from the neighbourhood six months ago.

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While Tom and Maggie attend a high school football game, Jake is overheard by his babysitter, Debbie Kozac (Liza Weil), as he speaks with a ghost named Samantha. Debbie gets upset and snatches Jake, running off with him in the night. Meanwhile, Tom gets a sense that Jake is in danger and rushes home but finds him gone. Tom then sees strange flashes of red light that eventually leads him to the station where Debbie is speaking with her mother about Jake. When Tom and Maggie confront her, Debbie angrily questions them about her Sister Samantha, explaining that she had an intellectual disability: having the mental capacity of an 8 year-old, a child’s tendency to trust strangers. Tom denies knowing her to Debbie, but admits to Maggie that she is the girl in his visions.

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Tom becomes obsessed with Samantha and begins questioning members of the community about her disappearance. This attracts the attention of his landlord, Tom’s friend, Frank McCarthy (Kevin Dunn) and their respective sons Kurt and Adam, who all dismiss Samantha as a runaway teen. During a walk through a graveyard, Jake and Maggie encounter a funeral where Chicago policemen are saluting in a ceremony; here a policeman named Neil immediately recognizes Jake’s unique talent and invites Tom to a private gathering of like-minded people to learn more about what is happening to his son.

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Maggie hides her conversation with Neil from Tom and goes to the meeting herself where Neil tells her the spirit that contacted Tom has asked for something and will continue to get upset if it does not get done. As predicted, Samantha begins plaguing Tom, eventually leading to his insomnia. He goes back to Lisa demanding she undo what she did, but when she hypnotizes him he is told by the spirit to dig. Tom accepts his quest and begins digging holes in the backyard and eventually tears up the house in a desperate attempt to appease his addiction to dig.

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While Maggie and Jake attend her grandmother’s wake at a relative’s house, Tom inadvertently knocks down a shoddy brick wall in the basement and discovers Samantha’s decomposed remains wrapped in a plastic sheet. He receives a vision showing him that before his family moved in, Adam and Kurt lured Samantha into the house to rape her. When she resisted, they unintentionally suffocated her and hid her body.

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What will Tom do now that he has discovered Samantha’s body and has learned the details of her gruesome murder? Give the film a watch to find out!

Before actually watching Stir Of Echoes yet knowing the premise, you might believe that it’s going to be a very similar movie to The Sixth Sense and in some minor ways it is but overall it’s basically completely different.

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In the traditional sense, Stir Of Echoes is a very good horror/thriller. The idea of someone getting hypnotized which “opens doors” within their mind leaving them susceptible to supernatural happenings is one that has a lot of potential.

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I thought Kevin Bacon was really great as Tom and portrayed his insomnia and obsessive behaviour very convincingly. The acting from just about everyone in the film is actually solid.

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I don’t know why but Jake’s ability to see and communicate with the dead seriously reminded me of The Shining. There is even a black character who seems to have the ability to sense what Tom and Jake have, it’s probably just because I watched The Shining recently….

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Stir Of Echoes biggest problems stem from a lack of character development and a lack of resolution or explanation to too many plot points. I never found myself feeling bored while watching though, the story is intriguing but as a person that has seen other movies similar to this one and as someone who watches many TV Shows about people disappearing, I found it all rather predictable.

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One of my biggest problems with the film is that it looks very dated. I don’t believe a movie has to have a huge budget to succeed but some of the effects used here are very poor, Tom’s infrared vision is laughably bad and Samantha’s corpse looked unrealistic to me. Because I’ve experienced so many other movies that feel similar to this one in the 16 years since its release, it ends up feeling dated too.

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Also, although it was actually very entertaining to see Kevin Bacon digging for like 15 minutes, some of those scenes could have been used to further develop the plot and just explain better why certain things were happening. I won’t go into too many examples but why is Tom always severely thirsty and what’s with his obsession with Orange Juice? I found my answer online but I felt the film could have explained things better.

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Stir Of Echoes is a decent film with some convincing performances. There are a few scares but most of them are very cheap (jump scares). This came out around the same time as The Sixth Sense and was completely overshadowed unfortunately, I think it deserved better. Here’s an idea, don’t choose between The Sixth Sense and Stir Of Echoes, enjoy both! Or you could just hate either, up to you.


Stir Of Echoes
  • 6.5/10
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