A well-crafted but derivative chiller, Stir Of Echoes ended up getting largely passed over in the wake of the superior Sixth Sense the same year. Based on Richard Matheson's novel, the film stars Kevin Bacon as Tom Witzky, a working class everyman who lives in the suburbs with his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and their son Jake (Zachary David Cope). No one notices that Jake seems to be having conversations with thin air until the day Tom is hypnotised by his amateur-psychic sister-in-law Lisa (Illeana Douglas). Tom begins to experience strange visions; horrific flashes of a violent crime, dreamlike premonitions, and a mysterious girl who appears to both father and son at random intervals. Tom discovers the girl is Samantha Kovac, a neighbourhood kid who disappeared six months earlier. What does she want from him? And can his family survive while he slips further into a disturbed obsession about her?
Individual scenes do work very well, but the film is too reminiscent of other material to become anything truly startling. The Shining is the obvious reference, with the psychic kid and a aging, friendly black chap who recognises the boy's powers, but there are also elements of Close Encounters (dad trashes house in consuming pursuit for the truth) and The Dead Zone (man foresees tragic suicide and rushes to save the victim). Very little is original these days of course, and an argument can be made that since the source novel was written way back in 1958, the story predates all of the above. But like it or not, these films do now exist and their elements are just too well known to really make Stir Of Echoes anything more than the sum of its parts.
The performances are good though, especially Bacon and Erbe. Writer/director David Koepp (who also penned Panic Room and Spider-Man) crafts a nicely believable relationship for the couple, and offers some strong supernatural imagery along the way, in particular the CGI-realised hypnotism sequence. It's enjoyable, and at 95 minutes tidily told, but you can't escape the feeling that it should have been something more.