Whichever way you slice it, Stir Of Echoes is inevitably going to be lumped in with The Sixth Sense. It's that whole "little boy actor in a film about the supernatural" thing. But while the similarities are undeniable, so too are the differences.
Where M Night Shyamalan's goosebump-raising crowd-pleaser was a fairly straight ghost story with a plot triple-salchow thrown in at the end, David Koepp's film plumps for a creepy whodunnit plot line that makes it much more of a Hitchcockian shocker than an out-and-out spook flick. It's just that this time round the Maguffin means the chief witness is also the victim.
Slotting in as the kind of troubled everyman Old Hitch loved is Kevin Bacon. Think Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window - a man slowly becoming obsessed with solving a crime that no-one else even believes took place - and you've got a fair sense of what he's aiming at here. It's another effortless Bacon performance, sidestepping all the usual horror/thriller clichés to slip into a reasonably happy, if not always contented, blue-collar family man. Tom Witzky loves his wife and child, but can't help wishing he'd managed something more with his life. So when a ghost starts silently appearing to him with a mission, he's believably eager to shut everything else out - - including his family - - and throw himself fully into the investigation.
This isn't a one-man grandstand of a movie, though. To fill out his life and show exactly what Tom's obsession risks, director Koepp spreads the screen time around the rest of his cast. Kathryn Erbe is great as wife Maggie, the tough and tender woman watching her husband turn from wage-earner to fruit loop and powerless to do anything about it. And then there's little Zachary David Cope (triple names à la The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment are clearly in for ghost-seeing sprogs this season) as their son Jake. Where is Hollywood getting these self-possessed, gripping little actors? Is there a lab somewhere growing them in test tubes?
In a film light on whizz-bang special effects (an impressive hypnotism scene with Tom floating towards the screen in a deserted movie theatre is the limit), Koepp never overplays his hand with the spectral presence. And once he's got the audience tensing at every over-the-shoulder shot and flinching like Tom does when he's alone in the house, then you know he's on to a winner.
Much more than a poor man's Sixth Sense, Stir Of Echoes is solid, intelligent, creepy cinema in its own right. Koepp's film may lack vast sprawling scope, but it pulls you along with its characters towards a gold-plated, put-your-hands-over-your-eyes finale.