|Kevin Bacon and Jennifer Morrison|
Sadly overshadowed by a more popular (though inferior) ghost movie released the same year (and one I will write about soon), writer/director David Keopp's Stir of Echoes is another example of the ghost story as a mystery, centered around the disappearance of a local girl.
Kevin Bacon plays Tom Witzky, an average Joe trying to support his family as a phone lineman. His pregnant wife Maggie ("Law and Order: C.I." alum Kathryn Erbe) and their son Jake live in a working-class Chicago neighborhood. One night at a party, Maggie's sister Lisa (the underrated and always wonderful Illeana Douglas), convinces Tom to let her hypnotize him. She implants a post-hypnotic suggestion in the skeptical Tom to be more 'open-minded.'
Not long after, Tom starts having visions of a mentally-challenged girl named Samantha ("Once Upon a Time" star Jennifer Morrison) who disappeared a few years before. The visions lead to obsession and Tom is soon digging up the backyard and causing Maggie to question his sanity. Tom eventually demands that Lisa undo whatever it is she did to him, but she can't and Samantha continues to haunt him. Tom finally breaks through a wall in his basement to find Samantha's remains and confronts his landlord, who admits that his sons lured the girl to house with the intention of raping her. When she resisted, they killed her and their father helped brick up her body in the basement. Consumed by guilt, the landlord apparently kills himself. When his sons show up and confront Tom with the intention of killing them, the landlord emerges from the basement and saves Tom and Maggie. The mystery solved, Tom's visions abate and the family moves out of the house. But as they are driving away, young Jake is seen battling against the voices of the dead which now rage in his head.
Keopp, who also wrote the screenplays for Jurassic Park; Panic Room and Spider-Man (among many others), working from the novel by Richard Matheson ("I Am Legend"), crafts a creepy and atmospheric tale in Stir of Echoes, populated by believable characters reacting to forces and situations outside their realms of experience and aided by an extraordinary cast. Bacon is simply terrific as Tom, a man confused and frightened by what's happening to him and Erbe is solid as a wife and mother who doesn't understand why her world is being torn apart. Douglas gives yet another wonderful performance as the quirky sister-in-law who isn't fully aware of the consequences of her interests in the occult, while the rest of the cast embody Chicago's late-90's working class. Prolific composer James Newton Howard (Batman Begins; King Kong; The Hunger Games) provides an appropriately creepy score and the visual effects by BFTRE are spot on.
If you've never seen Stir of Echoes, you owe it to yourself to do so. If you have, then you already know what a terrific and underrated film it is.