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by: Michael Dequina

For all their similarities, Stir of Echoes is a completely different animal from M. Night Shyamalan's film, especially in terms of style. Koepp approaches his material in a much more conventional fashion than Shyamalan, a fact that can best be summed up by a simple comparison. In The Sixth Sense, the now-famous "I see dead people" is spoken roughly an hour into the film. In Stir of Echoes, the psychically gifted child, Jake Witzky (Zachary David Cope), asks "Does it hurt to be dead?" to an invisible (but not to him) apparition at about the five-minute mark.

This sixth sense also comes to be possessed by Jake's father Tom (Kevin Bacon) after he is put under hypnosis by his sister-in-law Lisa (Illeana Douglas). What is meant as a harmless lark during a party turns natural skeptic Tom into a true believer, for he soon has haunting visions of a mysterious stranger lurking about his house--apparently the same heretofore invisible one with whom his son has been regularly conversing.

The reasons for the ghostly stranger's visits recall similar points in The Sixth Sense, and that's about where the similarities end. There is a more menacing edge here that was fairly absent in that film. A point that comes into play in Stir of Echoes is how ghosts get angry when not paid attention to, resulting in some effective scare scenes where Tom and his family are actually threatened. The darker shades are reinforced by Koepp, who employs an effectively flashy visual style that lends an eeriness to even the more sedate sequences, such as the clever staging of Tom's hypnosis experience.

The absorbing style and urgent pace of Stir of Echoes kept me interested as it progressed, as opposed to the glacial crawl of The Sixth Sense. In the end, though, my reaction to Echoes was the inverse of mine to Sense: where the latter's much-talked-about ending nearly redeemed the entire slow-going film for me, the dismayingly conventional conclusion to Echoes left me soured on the picture. It's a contrived standoff/hostage setup that belongs in much lesser film, and needless to say it completely kills the otherworldly atmosphere that Koepp had meticulously created. Never have I seen reality come crashing down in a film in a more literal--and disappointing--way.

RATING: *** (out of *****)


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