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Film / Stir of Echoes

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Stir of Echoes is a 1999 thriller written and directed by David Koepp, starring Mr. Six Degrees himself, Kevin Bacon. It's The Film of the Book of the 1958 Richard Matheson novel, though not a very strict adaptation of it.

At a party Tom Witzky (Bacon) scoffs at his sister-in-law Lisa's (Illeana Douglas) belief in psychic abilities and the paranormal. She hypnotizes him as a joke, and plants a post-hypnotic suggestion that he be more "open" to everything, which causes his latent psychic powers to stop being latent. Even stranger and scarier, his son Jake's psychic abilities, which aren't latent, begin picking up on weird things in and around the house, much to the dismay of his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe).

Eventually Tom and Jake realize the presence they sense is a ghost of a girl (Jennifer Morrison) who was murdered in the house some time ago.

It had a Made-for-TV Sequel, Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming starring Rob Lowe, which appeared on Sci Fi Channel, so you know what to expect.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: The club of psychics disappears after the most prominent member gives Maggie exposition on what Tom and Jake are going through, and she completely forgets about them afterwards.
  • Attempted Rape: What leads to the events in the movie that Tom has to relive through psychometry.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Frank (who the audience assumed shot himself) and Maggie show up at the last moment to save Tom.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Literal. Frank McCarthy makes an offhand remark about owning guns early in the movie. Do you think more than one gun will eventually play a narrative role?
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Tom wakes up from a dream only to have the same events unfold almost exactly. The dream also shows Frank's comments that he makes at the end, which appear cryptic in the dream without the context.
  • Driven to Suicide: Frank is ready to kill himself for his complicity in covering up Samantha's murder, but changes his mind at the last second to save Tom and Maggie.
  • Ear Worm: In-universe. Tom hears his son humming a song, and Tom becomes obsessed with figuring out what song it is: "Paint It Black" by The Rolling Stones (Band), specifically a cover version by Gob. The song was playing during the murder, and was the last thing the victim heard as she suffocated.
  • Ghostly Goals: Entirely benign in this case: she just wants her corpse found and her murderer brought to justice.
  • He Knows Too Much: Harry and Kurt try to murder Tom after the latter uncovers Samantha's body.
  • Here We Go Again!: Tom and Maggie move into a new neighborhood at the end of the film, but the fact that Jake hears far more whispers than before suggests that the paranormal experiences won't be over any time soon.
  • Hypno Fool: The premise of the story.
  • Idiot Ball: Subverted. Though it seems that Tom is being a complete idiot for warning Frank ahead of time that he knows about his son's involvement in Samantha's murder with no witnesses around, Frank doesn't kill him to keep the secret and ends up saving him.
  • Imaginary Friend: Tom and Maggie mistake who Jake speaks to at first as one of these. It's a ghost.
  • Never a Runaway: Debbie's mother says that her older daughter, Samantha, ran away. She's actually the girl that was murdered in the house.
  • Only Sane Man: Subverted. Maggie believes she's the only one in her family not going insane, because she didn't develop any psychic sensitivities.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: The ghost was cleverer post-death than in life, and more direct than a lot of ghosts in other media. She communicated with Tom as clearly as she could, considering his low power psychic ability meant she couldn't literally talk to him as she did with his son. She even convinced his son to talk to her sister to make more connections... which raises the question why she didn't just tell the kid all her woes directly. The only alternative being that she didn't want to involve him too much because of his age.
  • Product Placement: The ghost haunting makes Tom thirsty, so he's constantly chugging Minute Maid orange juice. At one point he fills his whole fridge with Minute Maid cartons.
  • Red Herring: Debbie, after she apparently abducts Jake after he mentions Samantha's name, especially since Tom sees red whenever he looks at her. Turns out she just wants to know what happened to her sister.
  • Rewatch Bonus: A lot of off-hand remarks made during the movie take on a new twist when you know what's really going on, such as how Frank keeps going on about what a decent neighborhood it is that they all live in.
  • Shout-Out: Debbie is reading The Shrinking Man while babysitting Jake. Both The Shrinking Man and A Stir of Echoes novels were written by Richard Matheson.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Gender inverted, as in this case, Dad and son get involved with the ghost, but Mom's the one Locked Out of the Loop.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Or a Chicago Neighborhood with a Dark Secret, actually, but the effect is pretty much the same.
  • Wham Line:
    • "What were we supposed to do? It was an accident."
    • Another one, said by Jake at the beginning of the movie: "Does it hurt to be dead?"