Back to Index
In this episode: Stir of Echoes | Six Degrees Resources

The unfortunate thing about Stir of Echoes is not really that it was released after the similarly-spirited The Sixth Sense, but that it's just as predictable as you please. There are no useful surprises in this movie. It's damn creepy and all, but since after about 30 minutes you can figure out the entire rest of the movie's "mysterious" plot, the creepiness is but a veil under which hangs a TNT Original.

(Okay, I know TNT has been getting credit for creating interesting made-for-cable movies, and to be honest, I've never watched any of them, but, hey, it's got the doubly dubious honor of being cable and a Ted Turner-owned enterprise. Therefore, it is ripe for picking to use in one of my lame-ass metaphors.)

Let's break the movie down and see just how easy the story elements are to predict using simple common knowledge. If you want the movie to remain a—heh heh—surprise, better stop reading. Forever. Reading warps the mind.

MOVIE ELEMENT: Little kid talking to nothing.

STIR OF ECHOES (SOE) TREATMENT: Right from the very first seconds, we see the little boy, Jake (a charming and not-at-all bad Zachary David Cope), conversing with the camera, a.k.a. us. It's a one-sided conversation, so he can hear the responses but we can not. He asks us what it's like to be dead. Then there's a reverse shot, and we see Jake talking to—GASP!—nothing.

MEANING: Jake is talking to—GASP!—a ghost.

MOVIE ELEMENT: Spooky, dream-like flashes of horror.

SOE TREATMENT: Horrific flashes shown in a spooky, dream-like manner: A bloody tooth. A fingernail snapping off. Plastic blowing in the wind with a figure standing alone. Tom (Kevin Bacon) is the recipient of these strange and far-from-indecipherable visions after being hypnotized by his wife Maggie's friend, Lisa (Illeana Douglas).

MEANING: Tom is seeing visions of a murder.

MOVIE ELEMENT: Ghostly girl.

SOE TREATMENT: Tom's sitting on the couch after sex with his wife was aborted by spooky, dream-like flashes of horror. First there's a couch, then there's a GHOSTLY GIRL ON THE COUCH! She reaches for Tom and looks like she's trying to tell him something. She's not a pretty ghost, but an ugly ghost.

MEANING: This is the girl whose murder Tom is seeing in his spooky, dream-like flashes. This is also the Samantha Tom's son, Jake, has been talking to. She was killed in the house, which is why she's bothering these otherwise fine people.

MOVIE ELEMENT: Missing girl.

SOE TREATMENT: After a kidnapping episode, Jake's abductor baby-sitter reveals, in a bit of glaring and clumsy exposition, that, hey, her sister Samantha went missing some time ago and no one has been able to find her. Tom recognizes a picture of Samantha as the ghost girl.

MEANING: We already know the girl was murdered in Tom's house, but now we know who she is.

MOVIE ELEMENT: Asking just the right people.

SOE TREATMENT: At some kind of block party, Tom asks Harry, his landlord, and other neighbors about Samantha. One man says she was retarded. There are uneasy looks, flat answers, and temper flare-ups. Tom makes a point of asking Harry's son about Samantha. He then makes a point of asking another friend's son about Samantha. One boy's a star athlete, the other's his best buddy.

MEANING: The boys raped and killed the retarded girl (confirmed when star athlete surprisingly attempts suicide soon thereafter).

MOVIE ELEMENT: Orders from the spirit world.

SOE TREATMENT: During a second hypnotism session in which Tom's hoping to get cured of his spooky, dream-like visions of horror, the ghost girl appears and commands him to dig. He digs, alienating his family in a Close Encounters kind of way.

MEANING: The girl was not only killed in the house, but—GASP!—her body's still there.

MOVIE ELEMENT: The final vision.

SOE TREATMENT: Tom touches the hand on the dead girl's body and finally gets to see what happened to her. It turns out she was lured to his then-unoccupied house by the landlord's son and the other boy, nearly raped, then accidentally killed by being smothered in plastic.

MEANING: There are no more surprises in store for us today.

I should say that there is a small, tiny twist near the end that adds an interesting element to the movie. Though I won't say what it is, you can figure it out from the block party dynamics. This little twist is nice because it makes the movie a little less obvious.

Let me blatantly ruin one other thing: At the end of the movie, Jake refuses to come with his mom back to the house when she goes to pick up Tom. He says he's scared of feathers. Sure enough, during the climactic battle, a gun goes off and the bullet shoots through the ceiling, up through the second floor, passing through Jake's bed and pillow. Pillow feathers float in slo-mo around the room. "Oh, how prescient," you think. "Had Jake come home, he would have been killed!" Not so fast. If Jake had come home, he would still be in the car waiting for daddy and mommy to come out of the house; his mom would not have brought him in, put him in his jammies, washed his face, tucked him into bed, read him a story, then wandered the dark house with the flip-blade knife looking for her possibly deranged husband. No, the kid was afraid of feathers because the writer thought it'd be really cool. The kid didn't save his own life, he just allowed the writer to get off on his own keenly honed dramatic writing brilliance. (One theory suggested to me is that Jake's saying he's afraid of feathers is supposed to throw you off, making you think of the dead girl's coat, which was shown vaguely a couple times. Then the bullet through the pillow is a surprise! I don't buy it because the film is too unintelligent to suggest something so subtle. Hell, that jacket's probably filled with poly fiber anyway.)

Stir of Echoes is full of sloppy, meaningless crap that's there solely to ease the writer's task of making the movie flow. For instance, there's the short episode where Jake gets kidnapped. Tom sees red flashes in his (real-life) vision, obviously a warning of some kind. Then red lights all over the city start making a funky WAAAAK WAAAAK noise at him. He finally understands what the warning means (though we're never treated to an explanation of how or why), and he saves his kid. Then the idea is dropped and red never means anything ever again. Worse of all, the kidnapping promises to take the movie on some unpredictable voyage, then turns out to be just a hollow, over-realized plot device to get to the exposition about Samantha. That's called bad writing, folks.

Another example: The wise black man who can recognize the Shining in people. You think I'm kidding. Nope. Maybe it's some kind of lazy homage to Kubrick and King, but there really is a black man who recognizes Jake as a seer and then promptly asks Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) to have Tom come visit him that night. Maggie visits him instead, he gets mad, she persists, and he goes off on some exposition meant solely for the dummies in the audience who haven't picked up by now that Tom is seeing a ghost and the ghost needs help. Then the black man promptly vanishes from the movie, his redundant purpose served. More bad writing accomplished.

We can blame David Koepp for this bad writing. (The story itself comes from a novel by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the book "What Dreams May Come.") David has a pretty mediocre string of writing credits trailing behind him (Snake Eyes, Jurassic Parks I and II, The Shadow, Death Becomes Her), so it's no surprise Stir of Echoes is as mediocre as it is. As a double treat, David also directed! That way he could make sure his mediocre script would be brought fully and correctly to mediocre fruition without any meddling by second parties.

Mediocre doesn't necessarily mean terrible. The movie does give some nice jumps and some effective skin crawls, mostly in the beginning, so you can always see it for that shivery late-night scare. However, Stir of Echoes makes you realize just how special The Sixth Sense really is, that the latter deals with very similar subjects and themes with more aplomb, more intelligence, and less gimmickry than the former. Stir of Echoes only has the creeps and some decent acting going for it; the rest is just pap.

As a final service, I have created an alphabetical list of the major cast members for your convenience. This should be helpful for those of you keeping Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon databases.

Cope, Zachary David
Douglas, Illeana
Dunn, Kevin
Erbe, Kathryn
Morrison, Jennifer
O'Farrell, Conor
Smith, Eddie Bo, Jr.



Thanks to Mandy for providing grammatical insight. She's is a genius.



To Top of Page


Buy Videos and DVDs at
Buy Videos at





©1999 Steven Lekowicz