Stir of Echoes

USA 1999

Reviewed by Demetrios Matheou


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

The present. Tom Witzky, his wife Maggie and young son Jake have recently moved to Chicago. At a party, the sceptical Tom agrees to let Maggie's sister hypnotise him. While under, he sees indistinct but frightening images which continue after the the session.

He foresees the suicide of his friend Frank's son and the attempted kidnapping of his own son by a babysitter, which he prevents. Tom becomes withdrawn and psychotic, moping about the house trying to understand what the visions mean. He realises both he and Jake are able to see the ghost of a girl named Samantha, who disappeared some months before. Maggie encounters a Chicago cop who reveals that, like himself, Tom and Jake are "receivers", able to perceive the supernatural. Tom starts obsessively digging up the house. He finds Samantha's body and immediately has a vision of her murder by Frank's two sons. Frank arrives intending to kill Tom but, in a moment of guilt, shoots his remaining son and another accomplice instead. The Witzkys move away.


From the opening scene, in which five-year-old Jake speaks eerily straight to camera, the similarities between Stir of Echoes and The Sixth Sense are strikingly apparent. Like Haley Joel Osment in last year's surprise hit, both Jake and his dad have a gift for supernatural perception which alienates them from others (here Tom's marriage is on the line as he cracks up), but which sends satisfying chills through the audience. In both films, the creepy but less than malign ghosts seek a kind of redemption.

However, there are enough differences to allow Stir of Echoes to stand on its own merits. For a start, writer/director David Koepp's source material is the novel by eminent horror writer Richard Matheson, which adds the patina of a conventional whodunnit thriller to the supernatural core of the story. Koepp relocates the action from California to Chicago, but the working-class milieu remains, adding a further, social dimension: Maggie is concerned not only that her man is losing his mind, but that he can ill afford to lose his job; Samantha's murder will destroy the district's strong sense of community.

Tom's discontent at the outset of the film, feeling he has underachieved by being no more than a telephone linesman, provides the fuel for the whole movie. Very early on, he states that, "I never wanted to be famous. I just never expected to be so ordinary." His extraordinary gift is a painful panacea. There are other satisfying themes. The fateful instruction from his acerbic sister-in-law when Tom is under hypnosis, to be more "open-minded", inadvertently opens the door for all kinds of unwelcome signals and intrusions. Beyond the pun, what's interesting is the difference in reaction of father and son towards what they see. Tom is disturbed, Jake unperturbed: demonstrating how a child's innocence and indeed open-mindedness are lost to life experience.

Although Samantha's ghost provides the film's heart-stopping moments, the supernatural plotting of the film is under-developed, not least in the exposition involving the psychic cop. Ultimately, it is Bacon's blue-collar conflict that resonates: his obsessive digging, reminiscent of Richard Dreyfuss' fun with mashed potato in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Koepp scripted the Jurassic Park movies) evokes the notion, call it cinematic pipedream, that for ordinary people it takes something extraordinary to provide a sense of self-worth.


David Koepp
Gavin Polone
Judy Hofflund
David Koepp
Based on the novel A Stir of Echoes by
Richard Matheson
Director of Photography
Fred Murphy
Jill Savitt
Production Designer
Nelson Coates
James Newton Howard
©Artisan Pictures Inc
Production Companies
Artisan Entertainment present a Hofflund/
Polone production
Executive Producer
Michele Weisler
Production Executive
Vivian Cannon
Production Co-ordinator
Margaret J. Orlando
Unit Production Manager
Tom Busch
Location Manager
Wileen Dragovan
Post-production Supervisor
Robert Hoffman
Assistant Directors
Carla Corwin
Don Julien
Bob Schick
Script Supervisor
Barbara Tuss
Mary Colquhoun
ADR Voice:
Barbara Harris
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Michael Kohnhorst
Camera Operators
Frank Perl
Gerrit Dangremond
Alan Thatcher
Visual Effects
Banned From The Ranch Entertainment
Additional Editing
John Axelrad
Art Director
David Krummel
Set Designers
Terry Baughman
Hugo Santiago
Gary Speckman
Set Decorator
Susie Goulder
Lisa's Artwork
Rosario Varela
Storyboard Artist
John Coven
Costume Designer
Leesa Evans
Costume Supervisor
Stella Cottini
Key Make-up Artist
Linda Melazzo
Additional Make-up Artist
Suzi Ostos
Key Hair Artist
Luny Hodges
Additional Hair Artist
Tara McCarthy
Tattoo Design
Derek T. Mullins
Special Make-up Effects
Tony Gardner
Jim Beinke
Make-up Effects Co-ordinator
Scott Malchus
Hand Piercing Supervisor
Bob Jones
Pacific Title/Mirage
Jeff Atmajian
James Newton Howard
Electronic Score Producer
J.T. Hill
Supervising Music Editor
Jim Weidman
Music Editor
David Olson
Score Recordist/Mixer
Shawn Murphy
Orchestra Recordist
Charlie Bouis
"Nothing But the Shell" by Steve Wynn; "Breathe" by Moist; "Mirror Mirror" by Wild Strawberries; "Stay Awake" by Dishwalla; "Space Drama" by SuperSkank; "Rio De Generic" by The Mighty Turbans; "Paint It Black" by Gob; "It's Not the Spotlight" by Beth Orton; "Hello" by Poe; "Pump Off"
Tim Chau
Sound Design
Martin Maryska
Production Sound Mixers
Daniel J. Richter
Scott Smith
Re-recording Mixers
Andy D'Addario
Tim Chau
Dubbing Recordists
Neal Porter
Chris Sparkes
Supervising Sound Editors
Todd Toon
Carmen Baker
Dialogue Editor
Jim Brookshire
Sound Effects Editors
Adam Kopald
Kurt N. Forshager
Donald Malouf
G.W. Brown
Matt Adler
Greg Finley
Jeff Fischer
Barbara Iley
Carlyle King
John LaFayette
David McCharen
Richard McGregor
David Randolph
Ruth Zalduondo
Louis Doc Kane
Gregg Barbanell
Laura Macias
Rich Green
Scott Weber
Piero Mura
Police Adviser
Raymond Vicari
Stunt Co-ordinator
Rick LeFevour
Kevin Bacon
Tom Witzky
Kathryn Erbe
Maggie Witzky
Illeana Douglas
Liza Weil
Debbie Kozac, the babysitter
Kevin Dunn
Frank McCarthy
Conor O'Farrell
Harry Damon
Jenny Morrison
Zachary David Cope
Jake Witzky
Luisa Strus
Stephen Eugene Walker
Mary Kay Cook
Larry Neumann Jr
Richard Cotovsky
neighbourhood man
Steve Rifkin
Chalon Williams
George Ivey
security guard
Lisa Lewis
Debbie's mother
Mike Bacarella
Christian Stolte
train station cops
Eddie Bo Smith Jr
Neil the cop
Hyowon K. Yoo
Korean woman
Jim Andelin
elderly man
Karen Vaccaro
upset woman
Antonio Polk
Rosario Varela
Latin woman
Duane Sharp
Polish priest
20th Century Fox (UK)
8,930 feet
99 minutes 14 seconds
Dolby Digital/SDDS
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011