If filmmakers want us to journey into the occult, they should give us the pieces of their puzzle so that at least we can be part of the game.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Like the covers of Time and Newsweek, movies often follow one another with uncanny mimicry. Just a few weeks after The Sixth Sense grabbed the summer box-office lead, Stir of Echoes, also sporting a young boy who talks to dead people, has arrived. Jake (Zachary David Cope) assumes the role of mentor to his father and the audience. He will teach us that it is perfectly possible not to be scared in the presence of vivid ghosts.

Tom (Kevin Bacon) and Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) are struggling to lift themselves to a better life than the one they share with son Jake in a shabby, dark house rented from a neighbor. Tom is a telephone lineman who still dreams of success as a rock musician, but the dreams sink slowly into the after-work demands and concerns of family. On this night, Tom and Maggie are having dinner with neighbors we will get to know better as things unfold.

A fellow guest is Lisa (Illeana Douglas), Maggie's thoroughly annoying sister. For Tom, Lisa is certainly the sister-in-law from hell. Among her current enthusiasms is hypnotism, a subject she carries on about until the skeptical Tom, buoyed by beer, dares her to try her luck with him. For the man who a short while ago said gently to his wife, "I didn't expect to be so ordinary," life is about to leap out of the ordinary.

Tom emerges from Lisa's successful session with visions that recur first in quick, horrifying details, then in longer visits from a ghostly young woman. One scene works well. As Lisa hypnotizes Tom with the words, "Close your eyes; you are in an empty theater," we move into Tom's mind and watch the rest of the movie from there. Considering that we are already in a darkened, if not empty, theater, it's a nice touch of spookiness.

Then, with the music trilling, crashing, and trumpeting the surprises to come, the story shifts from an extrasensory tale to a violent action thriller driven by cruelty. One mood cancels out the other, leaving just a thoroughly unpleasant muddle. As for the terror quotient, music goes a long way in the absence of a good script.

Kevin Bacon, as usual, manages to inhabit his character. He is entirely believable as a father who loves his wife and son, but despairs over the earning power he needs to give them what he thinks they deserve. Kathryn Erbe makes Maggie appealing. Together, they make us care about this couple caught in a nightmare.

But there are two big problems here: script and audience involvement. In the overlong, dull bulk of the movie, the audience is left to try to unravel the mystery with far too few clues. The script is thuddingly ordinary, and the audience is thrown mere scraps to process. If filmmakers want us to journey into the occult, they should give us the pieces of their puzzle so that at least we can be part of the game.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Artisan Entertainment
Rating : R
Running time : 1h39m

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