Stir of Echoes Review (Blu-ray)

Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment weren’t the only ones seeing dead people back in 1999. Kevin Bacon was as well in the atmospheric thriller Stir of Echoes, now available on Blu-ray from Lionsgate Home Video.

Bacon plays a Chicago man named Tom Witzky. Tom is the working definition of the Average Joe. He has a good job and lives in a close-knit Chicago neighborhood with his loving wife, Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and their young son, Jake (Zachary David Cope). It’s a solid if unexciting existence, one that is about to get a rude awakening.

One night at a party, Tom is put under hypnosis by his sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas). Meant to be nothing more than a party trick, this little event unlocks some sort of gateway in Tom that changes him in ways that begins to concern Maggie. Tom begins to be plagued by severe headaches and disturbing visions. Little by little, with help from his son who also appears to be seeing folks that not actually there, Tom begins to realize that all that is happening is not random and may have to do with an old neighborhood incident.

Looking back to 1999, when the film was released, I am trying to figure out why Artisan Entertainment – the studio who originally released the film – chose to release it when they did: the first weekend after the end of the summer movie season. You don’t have to know too much about films in general to know that this is basically a dumping ground for awful films studios have no faith in whatsoever. As if that date wasn’t enough of an obstacle, Echoes had the misfortune of opening a few weeks after The Sixth Sense, which as we all know also dealt with a living person seeing dead people. Even though this is the only similarity the two films share, it was enough to keep people away at the box office (myself included).

Now, I don’t remember what was on the schedule for Halloween releases that year, but if I were running Artisan, I would have moved Echoes closer to Halloween and further away from Sense. Chances are that this would have given the film a better chance at the box office. It would also have given moviegoers the chance to see a pretty decent thriller that makes for ideal viewing on All Hallows Eve.

Director/Screenwriter David Koepp, adapting Richard Matheson’s 1958 novel A Stir of Echoes, does a nice job creating atmosphere, building suspense and getting good performances out of his talented cast, in particular Bacon, Kevin Dunn (as Tom’s friend) and Douglas, who brings a nice sense of humor to her performance. It’s a slow, steady buildup whose payoff is a bit of a disappointment. Despite losing steam in its final 15 minutes, Stir of Echoes works well enough and evokes enough chills to make it work.

Lionsgate Home Video’s Blu-ray release of Stir of Echoes (1080p, MPEG-2 and in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, mistakenly listed as 2.35:1 on the cover) mirrors the film itself: decent, nothing more and nothing less. The picture quality has a nice, film-like texture to it. Black levels, key for a film with as many dark scenes as this one, are fine. The transfer suffers a bit from oversaturated colors and mild instances of background compression artifacts and grain, but overall it performs decently.

For a low-budget feature, Stir of Echoes has an accomplished, effective sound field and the Blu-ray does a really nice job conveying this. Dialogue is clear, James Newton Howard’s score makes an impact without being overwhelming and sound effects are carefully placed and executed. You have two sound choices here: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS HD ES. The DD EX track is good, but the DTS ES audio is where the sound mix works best.

There aren’t many extras to be found on this Blu-ray release, but the few that are ported over from the standard DVD special edition are worth checking out. The main extra is a Audio Commentary with writer/director Koepp. Coming across as laid-back, self-depreciating and entertaining to listen to, Koepp guides us through the film, talking along the way about the origins of the project, his connection to Chicago and use of the city’s locations and how Brian De Palma and Steven Soderbergh helped him out during production with hints and suggestions on certain scenes. Koepp isn’t shy to poke fun at himself, share a rather gross-but funny-production story and at times even point out some gaffes. It’s a nice commentary that is very entertaining and informative.

Sight of Spirits: Channeling the Paranormal (10:35) is an interesting interview segment with Dr. Larry Montz, a Field Parapsychologist who talks about his work in the paranormal field, about a group that he founded in 1972 that studies ghosts and a real-life incident he was involved with regarding an unsolved murder. Echoes novelist Richard Matheson also contributes a few comments as well, but the segment mostly focuses on Dr. Montz. You may not watch it more than once, but it is definitely worth a look and is presented in decent-looking 16×9 widescreen.

A short collection of Deleted Scenes (4:53) in 4×3 non-anamorphic widescreen wraps up the supplements. One decent scene shows Tom opening up to his family that actually explains the movie’s title. Two other clips, one an extension of an existing scene in the final print and one a rather odd outtake, are mere filler.

Stir of Echoes is a decent little thriller rich in atmosphere and filled with good performances. Lionsgate Home Video has released an equally decent Blu-ray release that is recommended as a purchase for the film’s die-hard fans and a rental for the rest of us.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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