Stir of Echoes

(David Koepp, USA, 1999)

BY LAURA KERN | January 24, 2024

Writer/director David Koepp paid the ultimate tribute to an author he reveres, the oft-adapted Richard Matheson, with a top-notch screen version of his 1958 novel, A Stir of Echoes. In the process, the filmmaker also provided Kevin Bacon with one of his finest, most intricate roles to date. He plays the working-class Chicago native Tom Witzky, who, with his thoughtful wife, Maggie (Kathryn Erbe, also excellent), is raising a young son, Jake (Zachary David Cope), and expecting a second child. Tom’s an upstanding but closed-minded guy, rueful of having led what he considers too ordinary a life. But after an innocent party-trick hypnotism conducted by his spiritualistic sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas)—a total knockout of a scene—something awakens in Tom, and his life feels commonplace no more.

A portal to the supernatural has opened, but Tom’s receiving powers—taking the form of jarring, dreamlike visions featuring a ghostly teen girl, and some memorably gruesome ones involving the extraction of teeth and fingernails—are nothing compared to those of little Jake, who is already apparently communing with spirits at the film’s start. Children seeing dead people was of course not an unfamiliar concept in 1999—The Sixth Sense was released to theaters barely a month prior, effectively overshadowing Stir of Echoes, even if the latter is in many ways the superior film, relying more on character and mood and less on gimmickry. (Something of a pivotal year for horror, 1999 also gave us Audition, Ravenous, and, for better or worse, The Blair Witch Project.)

Fellow seers Tom and Jake work together, shutting out an increasingly bewildered Maggie, to figure out who the ghostly presence is and what she wants—a mystery that intensifies when Jake requests that a specific babysitter, Debbie (Liza Weil), be brought into their home. Bacon’s commitment to his role mirrors Tom’s increasing determination—an obsessive pursuit rivaling that of Richard Dreyfuss’s Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), who, coincidentally, is also a utility-line worker. As Tom literally digs for clues in both his backyard and his basement, he uncovers some ugly truths about the tight-knit community he lives in.

Koepp’s later attempt to re-create Stir of Echoes’s haunted-house magic fell flat with You Should Have Left (2020), another Bacon-headlined adaptation of a psychologically creepy novel—and it’s hardly worth mentioning the very loosely connected 2007 made-for-TV sequel starring Rob Lowe that Stir of Echoes spawned. But the most solid directorial effort by the man perhaps best known for co-writing Jurassic Park is an underappreciated gem—a true masterpiece of late-’90s horror—that reveals new layers with each viewing. 🩸

Kevin Bacon and a ghost in plastic

is a writer, editor, and horror programmer based in New York. She is the editor of Bloodvine and her writing has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Film Comment, and Rolling Stone.

X: @killerkern

How to see Stir of Echoes

The film is also available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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