Beyond the Slimy Wall: Stir of Echoes

By Stephanie Star Smith

August 12, 2004

It's a nice day for a white wedding.

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We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.

Stir of Echoes

We've all played these kinds of games at parties: someone claims he can hypnotize people, those who are willing - or have been dared - give it a go, the "hypnotist" invariably doesn't manage to put anyone under, and a few either play along just to yank his chain, or everyone gives up and goes on to the next game.

But what if you decided to play along, and actually ended up being hypnotized? And then suddenly found yourself seeing things that can't be real, yet are?

Such is the premise of Stir of Echoes, a Kevin Bacon film that was unfairly lumped together with the execrable Patricia Arquette vehicle Stigmata that was released the same weekend. The big difference between the two - besides the fact that they are not similar in the least, save for both being horror films - is that Stir of Echoes was good, a fact few people seemed to recognize at the time.

The reliable Bacon - hey; it's not a coincidence that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon can be played effectively - stars as Tom Witzky, an average guy who isn't terribly open to new experiences. One night at a party, his sister-in-law, whom he considers a bit of a New Age freak, claims to be able to hypnotize people. He goes along with the gag...and quickly discovers it's no gag at all. What's worse, thanks to a post-hypnotic suggestion from his sister-in-law to keep his mind "open", he's suddenly seeing visions of a young girl - a very dead young girl - and feels compelled to discover what happened to her. He also discovers that his young son shares his gift, and has, in fact, been seeing dead people for most of his young life. The boy never talked about it much to Mommy and Daddy, though, since it was clear even to his young mind that they didn't believe him and he only got in trouble for telling "stories".

As Tom begins to put the puzzle pieces of the young girl's fate together, he quickly discovers that all is not what it has long seemed on their pleasant middle-class street in their sleepy little suburb, and the closer he gets to solving the mystery of the young girl's tragic death, the more danger he finds.

Now one of the things that makes Stir of Echoes so good - aside from the aforementioned Bacon - is that Tom is as baffled by what's going on as the audience. He's not even sure exactly what it is he's seeing, at first, and even after he is told of the post-hypnotic suggestion, and discovers his son also shares the sight, he's still not entirely convinced he's not going insane. And given his increasing obsession with finding out who the girl is, what happened to her and who was responsible, his wife isn't any too sure he's not losing his mind, either.

And Stir of Echoes plays fair with the audience; there are no red herrings, no trips down the primrose path that lead nowhere, no last-minute substitution of one suspect for another. The suspense is created and maintained the old-fashioned way; by laying out the clues slowly, building up to the final revelation and a showdown, the outcome of which is completely in doubt. And the B plot isn't given short shrift, either; it becomes intertwined with the A plot, and both are resolved during the climax, and while the storylines are mostly brought to a satisfying end, the audience is left with that little bit of uncertainty that is so much a part of real life.

Stir of Echoes clocks in at a brisk 99 minutes, and there isn't a single second of film that is wasted. The storytelling is tight, the acting all above-average, and the special effects are nicely done. It's definitely worth checking out the next time you sashay down to your local rental emporium for a good night's scare.

I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.



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