Sunday, April 3, 2011

Flick of The Day: Stir Of Echoes

Today's flick of the day is a psychological thriller from writer/director David Koepp, Stir of Echoes. Koepp was one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood, writing some of the most profitable films of the 1990's such as Jurassic Park and Mission Impossible before stepping into the director's chair for this his second feature.  This film showed his promise as a director, something proven by one of his later features, the lovely Ghost Town starring Ricky Gervais.
Starring the always watchable Kevin Bacon as Tom Witzky, a blue collar telephone company worker living in a working class neighbourhood of Chicago. One Saturday night, after a party in a neighbour's house Tom dares his sister in law, a trainee hypnotist to prove that hypnosis works by hypnotizing him. While under, she plants in his mind the suggestion that he be more open. Of course, as you can guess, this has unintended consequences. Suddenly, Tom is haunted by nightmarish visions around the house he shares with his pregnant wife, Maggie and their young and quietly odd son Jake. He begins to see a young girl around the house who had disappeared from the neighbourhood some 6 months previously. Jake shares the same visions, with an ability to communicate with the girl, called Samantha. As Tom's life gradually begins to fall apart with his mental health, the film races toward a thrilling conclusion.
The success or failure of a film's release can so often come down to luck. Sometimes you just capture an audience's taste and imagination at the right time and you make a lot of money. Sometimes you don't. The quality of your film doesn't change with either outcome. This film was desperately unlucky, released just a few weeks after M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense which was one of the biggest film's of the year and unfortunately enough for the team behind Stir of Echoes, both film's involve a child protagonist who communicates with the dead. The success of The Sixth Sense very much crippled any chance of Stir of Echoes being seen by a larger audience. With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to say that this is the better of the two films with Sixth Sense relying on cheap theatricality for it's thrills.
The real strength of this film is that unlike so many films of this genre, it does not go down the route of gore and cheap shock tactics to keep the audience engrossed. Instead, Koepp chooses to explore the pysche of the main character, Tom. He is aided in this by a fine performance from Bacon, giving a realistic portrayal of a hard working family man who is being destroyed by his demons. 

"Whatever door you opened in my brain, I want you to shut it - now!"

The film is genuinely creepy at times and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. If it has any flaws, it is that the ending when it comes is a little predictable though it wraps up the plot nicely. All in all, a film worth seeing if you enjoy tense psychological thrillers. There is a strong central performance from Kevin Bacon and subtle direction from David Koepp who knows how to weave a mystery compelling enough to keep you enthralled.

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