“I see dead people,” says young Haley Joel Osment to Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. Don’t we all? The surprise blockbuster grosses of that subtly haunting thriller, along with those of The Blair Witch Project, have made the dead a hot ticket.
Stir of Echoes has a Sixth Sense mojo working for it, even though director David Koepp (The Trigger Effect) has adapted the screenplay from a 1958 Richard Matheson novel. Kevin Bacon stars as Tom Witzky, a blue-collar Chicago good guy who suspects that things are amiss when his young son Jake (Zachary David Cope) looks up from his bath and starts talking to someone who isn’t there. “Does it hurt to be dead?” asks Jake. Things get spookier for Tom when his wife, Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), drags him to a party, where her sister Lisa (Illeana Douglas) hypnotizes Tom as a parlor trick. After that, Tom starts seeing things, too – like the ghost of a dead girl sitting on his couch. The dead are as pissed off here as they were in The Sixth Sense. And the ghost of the girl carries a dark secret that puts a malevolent face on what once looked like a normal neighborhood.
No fair revealing more of the plot, except to say that Koepp – he did the scripts for Mission Impossible and two Jurassic Park films – stretches the long arm of coincidence past the limit. What helps is Bacon, an underrated actor who has the knack of getting audiences in his corner. Make no mistake, this film isn’t cheese, even if it does stir too many echoes. There are moments of chilling terror, especially when Tom and his son start sharing the same visions. But compared with the thrilling teamwork of Willis and Osment – the first child actor in years to give an Oscar-caliber performance – there’s no contest. Stir of Echoes has been outrun and outclassed.