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Stir of Echoes
Based on a novel written by Richard Matheson (who was also behind The Omega Man, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Night Stalker among many others) 1999's Stir of Echoes is a solid ghost story whose biggest failing is that it was released a month after M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense. The movies are very similar, both involving children that can see dead people, and in comparison Stir of Echoes isn't nearly as effective. It is still a good film though and has a few effective chills as well as an engrossing story.
Tom Witzky (Kevin Bacon) is a typical guy with a wife, kid, and blue collar job. While at a party one evening Tom is hypnotized by his sister-in-law Lisa (Illeana Douglas) as a gag. He's not the same after he comes out of his trance however. Strange things start happening. He sees violent images of a girl being raped and killed while having sex with his wife, he has trouble sleeping, and one evening he sees a ghost sitting on his couch. Tom soon discovers that his son Jake (Zachary David Cope) also sees the dead girl that lives in his house. She wants something from Tom and Jake, but just what she wants is cryptic, and when they don't deliver she starts to get angry.
Though it's very similar in plot and tone to Sixth Sense, Stir of Echoes isn't a copy (there's no way it could have been, they were filmed at about the same time.) It stands on its own merit and is a pretty good film. Kevin Bacon does his usual fine job in this film, capably portraying Tom as a man who is being driven out of his mind by things that he doesn't understand. Tom's role is such a big part of the film that the movie's success is mainly due to the strength of Bacon's performance.
The plot was constructed nicely too. Like the main character, viewers aren't really sure what's happening to Tom and what his visions mean. There's enough mystery to keep people interested and that also adds to the suspense. The film has several creepy parts, such as the time Tom pulls one of his teeth out while standing in front of the mirror, but the gross-out factor is pretty low.
Though the plot is compelling and the acting is strong, the film is rather weak at the end. There's a deus ex machina element to the conclusion along with a couple of implausible (to say the least) events that come together to create the finale. I won't give anything away, but I had to roll my eyes a couple of times. Luckily the weak ending doesn't ruin the film. The trip getting there is so enjoyable that even if the destination wasn't what you were expecting, you'll still have a good time.
This is the first Blu-ray DVD that I've had problems with. I'm not sure if the cause is the player or the disc itself or a combination of the two. Once when I turned on my Samsung BD-P1000 with the disc inside the player, the disc wouldn't boot up. The little hourglass appeared on the screen and nothing further happened. Neither the remote nor any of the controls of the front of the player would work (including the power and eject buttons) and I ended up unplugging the unit. After I did that it booted up without a problem.
Another time I popped the disc in to check the aspect ratio (which is listed incorrectly on the back of the case) and the short intro scene that plays before the menu pops up started looping. I couldn't access the menu at all, even with the remote; all I could get was that intro clip to play over and over. I shut the unit off with the power button on the deck, turned it on again, ejected the disc and then reinserted it and everything was fine. Very curious behavior.
Note: The only Blu-ray DVD player on the market at the time of this review is the Samsung BD P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design, and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this.
Like many of the current Blu-ray discs, this one is a mixed bag. The 1.78:1 widescreen image (incorrectly labeled as 2.35:1 on the back of the case) looks good overall with several scenes that just jump off the screen. The brief bit where Tom is floating in a gold chair in the theater while being hypnotized was really impressive, as were some of the exterior shots that were filmed in Chicago.
The level of detail was also very good. Viewers could make out the individual hairs that made up the stubble on Kevin Bacon's face and other minor objects were well defined. The colors were solid, though some of the skin tones looked a little too red in a couple of scenes. This could be due to the lighting, and wasn't a big deal in any case.
Unfortunately there are some problems with this disc. Once again, I was surprised to see spots on the image. While this wasn't a problem though the whole film, there were a couple of scenes that had several white specks flicker by. It would have been easy to clean that up, and I'm surprised that they didn't take the time to do so. Digital noise is also a problem in a few places, main in exterior scenes were sky is showing.
When all is said and done, this is a very nice looking transfer that could have been improved with just a little bit of work.
As with other Lions Gate titles, this disc has a DTS HD High Resolution ES audio track as well as a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX track. Both of these sounded fine. The sub channel is never taxed too heavily, but the rest of the soundstage is put to good use. The movie throws some subtle sound effects to the rear speakers which not only helps immerse the viewer in the film, but is also pretty creepy too. The full range is reproduced nicely, though, as I said, the lower end isn't used very much.
Many of the extras that appeared on the Special Edition DVD released in 2004 are missing from this Blu-ray edition, which is a shame, but they did port some of them over. The movie has a very good commentary track with director David Koepp which was nice and solid. He talks about all aspects of the production and even points out some goofs in the movie. It was entertaining and educational.
Next up are four deleted scenes that run about 5 minutes altogether. These weren't significant and didn't really add much to the movie.
There is also a ten minute featurette entitled Sight of Spirits: Channeling the Paranormal. This 10-minute totally worthless waste of celluloid features Dr. Larry Montz, describing how realistic the movie is. Yeah, right. You can get an idea for how manipulative Montz is by his introduction. He describes himself as a 'Ph.D. Parapsychologist.' That implies that he has a Ph. D. in parapsychology, but of course there are no accredited universities offering such a program. That mean he either has his doctorate in another field (which is what I suspect) or he bought, I mean earned, his degree from some unaccredited school such as the ones that frequently fill my e-mail inbox with spam on becoming a Ph.D. overnight.
If that's not enough to let one know that he's not on the up and up just listen to him talk for a minute or two. One of the first things he does is define his discipline: "Parapsychology encompasses many paranormal events that can never be explained by normal scientific methods. So Parapsychology is really the scientific study of different phenomena." So, according to his own definition he is using scientific protocols and investigative techniques to study events that can't be explained by scientific methods. Sounds like a waste of time to me, much like this bonus item. It's a shame that this idiotic short was included but the making-of featurette wasn't.
This was a pretty good film. It had some creepy moments, some genuine drama and an interesting plot. It's slighted marred by a weak ending but otherwise a well done film. The Blu-ray presentation is fine, with a few very nice eye-popping scenes and a generally fine transfer that is harmed by some spots and excessive noise. If you're a fan of ghost stories, you should definitely check this out. Recommended.