"Stir of Echoes"

Director David Koepp reveals the secret behind the low-budget special effect that makes his graceful, creepy thriller look like a million bucks.

By Stephanie Zacharek
September 28, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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"Stir of Echoes"
Directed by David Koepp
Starring Kevin Bacon, Ileana Douglas, Kathryn Erbe
Artisan Entertainment; widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Cast and crew bios, making-of featurette, behind-the-scenes footage, theatrical trailers

David Koepp's "Stir of Echoes" is that rarest of creatures among contemporary movies: a true ghost story. In his adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1958 novel, Koepp builds a creepy and angularly graceful supernatural thriller with nothing but nuance and suggestion. The movie's only overt gore is some nasty business with a bloody tooth, and that occurs in its first half hour. After that, Koepp isn't remotely interested in grossing us out, or even in feeding us ever-escalating thrills to make us leap from our seats. He's happier luring us slowly, imperceptibly, toward the edge.


Tom (Kevin Bacon, in a performance that builds to a buzzing, unnerving intensity) is an aging rock 'n' roller and family man who's essentially happy with his partner, Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), and his young son, Jake (Zachary David Cope), but who can't help lamenting that he's started to settle into a rather ordinary life. He doesn't yet know that Jake has the ability to see things that others can't, and that he's in constant communication with a being who's invisible to everyone else. After his sister-in-law Lisa (Ileana Douglas) hypnotizes him, Tom himself suddenly becomes susceptible to messages that seem to be coming from beyond the grave. These signals are both visual and audible: Car taillights buzz and whir like angry red electric monsters; a restless bout of middle-of-the-night TV-watching is interrupted by the pallid, ghostly figure of a young girl who tries to tell him something that he just can't understand. As he becomes obsessed with finding out who she is and what she wants from him, he and his family find themselves in the center of a rapidly tightening circle of danger.

The DVD extras on "Stir of Echoes" aren't flashy, but like the movie itself, they're a good example of how simple means can be used to impart invaluable information. When you click on "Cast and Crew," the bios that appear on-screen are simply typewritten -- but if you take the time to read them, you get a sense of the wiles Koepp and his cast and crew used to make this startlingly effective picture on a very small budget. In the making-of featurette, Koepp explains that he didn't have a lot of money for flashy special effects, and he wanted his ghost to be distinctive. So he had cinematographer Fred Murphy shoot the actress who plays the spectral figure (Jennifer Morrison) at six frames per second, instead of the usual 24. The result is a wraith whose slow, jerky movements are disquieting and memorably elegant at the same time -- as well as being weirdly touching. It's a simple effect that looks like a million bucks. And the chill it sends up your spine? Priceless.

Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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