Stir Of Echoes (1999)
Main cast: Kevin Bacon (Tom Witzky), Kathryn Erbe (Maggie Witzky), and Zachary David Cope (Jake Witzky)
Director: David Koepp
There is some inevitable comparison of this movie to Sixth Sense, but Stir Of Echoes is a wonderfully chilling supernatural thriller in its own right. Based on an ancient horror story by Richard Matheson, this story explores the possibility of one driven to the brink of madness by paranoia and suburban life and it succeeds wonderfully.
Tom is a middle-class blue-collar telephone lineman living in a quiet neighborhood. He is, however, feeling a little discontent with his life. "I never wanted be to be famous. I just never expected to be so ordinary," he tells his wife Maggie. One day he allows himself to be hypnotized by his sister-in-law during a get-together. Bad move. Tom starts seeing ghostly visions of a missing young girl around him, and this starts a chain of events that result in Tom almost losing his sanity as well as his wife and the exposure of a nasty small-town secret. His only ally is his son Jake who can see ghosts and has a more potent "gift" than his father.
I just cannot handle this sort of movies in the long run - it's awfully bloodcurdling in its normalcy. Tom and Maggie are nornal people, hence their descend into nightmare is even more terrifying. What's hiding under your basement? Can you trust your babysitter? Are your neighbors really the people you think you know? If The X Files takes paranoia and makes it a force to be reckoned with, SOE demonstrates that even normal everyday life can go horribly wrong, really wrong.
The movie is particularly effective because of the lead characters. Kevin Bacon is simply perfect as Tom, a not-too-bright and sometimes awkward man who aspires for nothing more than a comfortable life. As the movie progresses, he slowly loses control of his faculties, and it isn't a pretty sight, but Bacon's performance excels. Likewise, Kathryn Erbe plays Maggie wonderfully as the wife who is initially exasperated by her husband's increasingly bizarre behaviour, only to be terrified and frustrated when she cannot get him to open up to her. She is also a spunky, feitsy woman who is capable of defending her family without fear. There is one disappointingly underdeveloped scene where she storms the headquarters of a group of "Receivers" (people with the Gift) to demand to know what is happening to her husband. Maggie and Tom actually act like real, likeable middle-class people that I meet daily around my apartment block, and yes, they have enough chemistry to convince me that they are perfect for each other. The happy ending is simply well done, especially when... oh, let's not spoil the story, shall we?
SOE is not a Sixth Sense rip-off. Far from it. It is a really scary yet moving story of psychosuburban terror, and I love it!
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