*Stir of Echoes (R)
What rotten luck and exquisite irony that two films about little boys who communicate with the dead should come out of Hollywood in the heat of the same haunted summer.
Stir of Echoes, unfortunately, gets the short end of the stick -- following the box-office splash and Oscar buzz of Sixth Sense -- but if you can drop the tendency to compare, and view Stir of Echoes on its own merits, it stands up as a pretty darn good, often hair-raising thriller.
Kevin Bacon is Tom Witzky, an average Joe in a working-class, Irish-American neighborhood of Chicago whose angelic little boy is clairvoyant. When Tom's dippy sister-in-law (Ileana Douglas) hypnotizes him on a dare at a beer party, he too enters the underworld, but for him, it is a clammy, dark and dangerous place, filled with foreboding and lurking with evil.
Bacon plays Tom with delirious muscularity, gruffness and frenetic energy -- to the point that you almost wish the guy would just pop some Valium and chill out. His little boy, Jake, on the other hand, accepts his fate with gentle sweetness, providing a nice contrast. (Seven-year-old actor Zachary David Cope plays Jake and holds up favorably in the inevitable comparison to Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment -- what is it anyway with these prodigious triple-named miniature actors?)
Stir of Echoes spends too much time, in the end, explaining the supernatural phenomenon that has engulfed the neighborhood, but the buildup to that non-climax is one heck of a ride. Filmed with a camera in perpetual motion and lighted like a sance from seventh grade, the film captures a classic horror feel right out of the starting gate and moves with unrelenting force for the first solid hour.
In spite of the climax problem, I bought the film's explanation for itself and for Bacon's tortured journey. And I loved the film's tight location feel.
Nowhere near as slick, ultimately, as Sixth Sense, Stir of Echoes is like a rough boyfriend from the wrong side of the tracks -- brimming with danger and sexy as all get- out. No profundities or revelations here, just good basic horror for basic horror fans.