It’s blue collar horror!
As the 1999 film Stir of Echoes shows, ghost don’t only haunt the rich and famous. Sometimes, they haunt ordinary guys who live paycheck to paycheck and just want to be able to take some pride in having a home that’s free of secrets and evil spirits. “Ghosts, they’re a real pain the ass sometimes, y’know what I’m saying?”
For instance, in Stir of Echoes, Kevin Bacon plays Tom Witzky. Tom is a phone lineman who lives in Chicago. Tom wishes that he could have been something more than a phone lineman. He wishes that his band could have taken off and he could have been a rock star. But, now Tom’s reached his 40s, he’s got a wife named Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), a son named Jake (Zachary David Kope), and another child on the way. So, he works hard and then he comes home and he has a beer and sometimes, he might go to a high school football game. It’s not a glamorous life but at least it’s something with which Tom can be happy.
Of course, then Tom makes the mistake of going to a party that’s being given by his friend, Frank (Kevin Dunn). When Maggie’s sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), says that she knows how to hypnotize people, Tom scoffs and challenges her to hypnotize him. Lisa does so and, the next thing that Tom knows, he’s sitting there with tears in his eyes and everyone laughing at him. Even though it was only a few seconds to Tom, he was apparently under hypnosis for quite a while. He talked about being bullied as a child. He stuck a safety pin through his hand. He even accepted Lisa’s suggestion that he “try to be more open-minded.” Upset over being revealed to be vulnerable, Tom leaves the party.
Tom soon learns what it means, in his case, to be more open-minded. Soon, Tom is hearing voices and seeing what appears to be the ghost of a teenage girl in his house. He starts to have disturbing and violent visions. When Tom tries to pretend that nothing’s wrong, Jake tells him that it’s okay because he can see the ghost as well.
Growing obsessed with his visions, Tom is soon tearing his own house apart in an attempt to discover what the spirits are trying to tell him. Is Tom truly seeing ghosts or, as so many in the neighborhood suspect, is he losing his mind?
When I first started rewatching Stir of Echoes for this review, I have to admit that I was a little bit concerned. Kevin Bacon is one of the most likable actors on the planet and this film is usually cited as featuring one of his best performances but, in the first few scenes, he seemed to be almost going a little overboard with the whole “I’m just a working class guy” routine. But, as the film progressed, I actually came to realize that Kevin Bacon was giving a brilliant performance. The fact that he played Tom as being so rational and almost boring during the first half of the movie made it all the more effective when he started tearing his house apart during the second. During those scenes, Bacon plays Tom as not only someone obsessed with discovering the truth but also as someone who just wants his life to be normal again. If he has to destroy his life to get it back, that’s what he’s going to do.
(That said, my favorite character in the film was Lisa, mostly because we share the same name and she was played by the brilliant Illeana Douglas. The thing I loved about Lisa is that, when she was informed that she had messed up Tom’s mind, she was both sorry and proud of herself at the same time.)
Stir of Echoes is still a frightening film, one with plenty of jump scares and a subtext of paranoia as it’s revealed that both the neighborhood and Tom’s friends are full of secrets. Because they both came out in 1999, it often gets compared to The Sixth Sense. I like The Sixth Sense but I actually prefer Stir of Echoes, just because it’s not quite as self-important as M. Night Shyamalan’s film. The makers of Stir of Echoes didn’t set out to change the world. They just wanted to make a scary ghost story and they succeeded.