Stir of Echoes Offers Another Way to See Dead People

By Robert Silva


Movies, according to conventional wisdom, are a director’s medium. Though every movie starts with a script, most of us are hard-pressed to name even hugely successful screenwriters. One name to learn: David Koepp, whom you might have missed on the credits for Panic Room, Carlito’s Way and Jurassic Park. A prolific writer of big-deal franchises (Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man) and a trusted collaborator of Steven Spielberg, he is also — in a twist you never saw coming! — a very fine filmmaker in his own right. Look no further than 1999’s overachieving ghost story Stir of Echoes.

Setting: Chicago. Kevin Bacon is Tom, a skeptic of the supernatural who gets hypnotized at a party. Once he awakens, he’s subject to disturbing visions about a missing girl. Including one involving teeth you won’t be able to pry out of your head. Is he newly connected to the spirit world — or losing his grip on reality? His pregnant wife (Kathryn Erbe) surely has her doubts when he starts jackhammering the hardwood floors.

Based on the 1958 novel by horror legend and Twilight Zone scribe Richard Matheson, the tale grows more ominous when the couple’s young son — a creepy-in-PJs Zachary David Cope — starting conversing with an invisible friend from beyond the grave. Shades of The Shining? Matheson was according to Stephen King ”the author who influenced me the most.”

As a director, Koepp tells the story at a furious pace while setting up the working-class reality of Tom’s life — from his job as a telephone lineman to the insularity of his blue-collar neighborhood — so that the spooky stuff feels grounded. As Tom follows the clues of his visions, and moves closer to solving the movie’s central mystery, Stir of Echoes reaches an intensity matched by Bacon’s performance. (Speaking of Bacon, doesn’t he make everything better? See Tremors.)

Arriving a month after M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense in 1999, Stir of Echoes was overshadowed by its blockbuster counterpart. Both are, of course, about characters who “see dead people.” They’re also horror movies whose greatest thrills come from storytelling, not jump-scares. If screenwriters can seem like the ghosts in Hollywood — unacknowledged and continually doubted — now’s the perfect time to bring Koepp’s spirit into the light.