In 1999, the media was in a frenzy about a new film that used real things to terrify and excite its audience. Stir Of Echoes was not it. Partly due to the studio's financial difficulties, Stir Of Echoes came and went by itself, unsung and unappreciated. Which goes to show that recognition in the Hollywood system does not go to innovators or the best storytellers. It is all about marketability, and while Stir Of Echoes had this, the companies involved in making or distributing it did not seem to want to spend the cash involved in taking advantage. Either that or Artisan and Fox decided to use it as their tax write-off for that year.
I have not read the novel by Richard Matheson, so I cannot comment on how faithfully the film follows its source. But that is irrelevant. When compared to its more big-name competitor, at least Stir Of Echoes has the courtesy to acknowledge its source. The film updates the story to a more modern era, thus saving a few dollars, since period pieces are expensive to make. In fact, the dramatic angle of the film keeps it rather cheap, since effects shots are few and far between. Not to mention the effects that do appear are fairly simple in nature. Indeed, Stir Of Echoes only cost about thirteen million to make, according to estimates. Which makes it all the more peculiar that Fox was unwilling to invest a little more effort in publicising the film.
Kevin Bacon is in fine, fine form as the film's central hero, a regular guy called Tom Witzky. Kathryn Erbe is also in great form as his wife, Maggie. Illeana Douglas is decidedly odd as his sister-in-law, Lisa. But the real surprise here is child performer Zachary David Cope. After the pretender, that pile of sachaarine garbage called The Sixth Sense, child stars had such a bad reputation that Zachary deserves a medal for portraying such a genuinely likable, layered character. Indeed, director David Koepp took one hell of a risk by placing so much of the responsibility for the plot on his shoulders. That it pays off is a testament not only to the strength of Zachary David Cope's performance, but to the strength of the material he was given. Indeed, all the best scenes in Stir Of Echoes involve interaction between Zachary, Kathryn, and Kevin.
I do think this film has its faults. Chief among them is that the story needed another ten minutes to properly develop. Plot threads like the group of psychics, a member of which helps put Kathryn Erbe's character on the path of greater understanding, needed better resolution. One moment, Maggie is asking this policeman why her husband is obsessed with a scene of memories to the exclusion of his job. The next moment, not only are details like the job forgotten, so too is the group and the policeman. Smoothing out intricate plot points such as this would have helped the story no end.
In the end, however, Stir Of Echoes is proof that the artistic work one does not hear about may just be the one that has more merit. If nothing else, it is worth watching to see a small ensemble cast that excels. Even small performances like Liza Weil's demonstrate a sense of dramatic flair that has long fled most of the rest of Hollywood. It is for this reason that I gave Stir Of Echoes an eight out of ten. It is worth watching just to see how badly misdirected the hype machine often is.