Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
"Stir of Echoes" is a supernatural thriller firmly rooted in a blue-collar Chicago neighborhood, where everyone on the block knows one another--although not as well as they think. Kevin Bacon stars in one of his best performances, as a telephone lineman named Tom Witzky, who plays in a band, wants to break out of the routine of his life and succeeds all too successfully.
"I never wanted to be famous," he tells his wife. "I just never expected to be so ordinary." But he has an extraordinary gift he doesn't know about: He's a Receiver, able to see spirits. This gift is unlocked one boozy night at a beer party, when his sister-in-law Lisa (Illeana Douglas) talks about hypnosis. Tom claims he can't be hypnotized. Lisa tries. She evokes an empty theater and sends Tom drifting toward the screen; he spirals deeply into a trance and awakens after a terrifying vision of violent but indistinct events in his own house.
The haunting visitations do not go away. They're linked, perhaps, to events on the street, where the neighbors are salt-of-the-earth types who are into buying old houses and fixing them up. Tom's nights are prowled by nightmares, and his lovemaking is interrupted by hallucinations of severed body parts (that will certainly do the trick). He starts calling in sick, and his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) is worried: Is he getting goofy? After the movies about satanic manifestations in Manhattan skyscrapers, it's nice to see weird things happening to people who hang out in the corner saloon, go to high school football games and walk down the block to church. In a Manhattan movie his wife would have sent him to a shrink. In this Chicago version, she tells her sister: "He's used up all his sick days. They're gonna start docking him." Only his son Jake (Zachary David Cope) understands. Early in the film he asks an unseen presence, "Does it hurt to be dead?" After a vision of a ghostly young woman named Samantha appears to Tom on his living room sofa, Jake reaches out and touches his hand: "Don't be afraid of it, Daddy." We learn that several months ago a mentally retarded girl disappeared in the neighborhood. Her sister baby-sits Jake, who somehow knows the name of the missing girl; Samantha told him.
Then Samantha tells Tom, "dig." So he digs. He digs up the backyard. Then he starts on the cellar. Eventually be brings in a pneumatic drill. This is the movie's weakest section; the writer-director, David Koepp, makes him dig more than is necessary to make the point. The movie's about ghosts, not digging, and I was reminded of Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," in which Richard Dreyfuss, receiving impulses from aliens, sculpts his mashed potatoes. The director's cut toned down the mashed potatoes, and Koepp might one day consider similar repairs.
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