A solid young screenwriter known primarily for his work with Steven Spielberg (both Jurassic Park movies) and Brian De Palma (Carlito's Way, Mission: Impossible), David Koepp showed great promise as a director with 1996's underrated Trigger Effect, a witty thriller about a simple power outage that hurls a modern city into chaos. Before collapsing entirely in its overheated third act, his follow-up, Stir Of Echoes, takes a ripe supernatural premise and mines it for a few remarkably potent psychic shocks. Kevin Bacon gives a characteristically appealing turn as a modest Chicago electrician who gets drunk at a party and submits himself to his sister-in-law's (Illeana Douglas) amateur hypnotherapy. Soon after, he's assaulted by a series of horrific messages from beyond, clues that he pieces together with the crazed obsessiveness of Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Bacon's head doubles as the film's haunted house, open to whatever forces inhabit it, and Koepp exploits his vulnerability to frightening effect early on. But once these random visions begin to take shape, Stir Of Echoes morphs into a hackneyed and arbitrary whodunit with the film's initial suggestiveness supplanted by blunt, gratuitous ugliness. While much of the blame can probably fall on the source material, a novel by Richard Matheson (What Dreams May Come, Somewhere In Time), Koepp does nothing to stop the plot's creaky mechanics from taking over. But with so few horror films, let alone good ones, sneaking past the straight-to-video market, a handful of solid scares may be worth the disappointment.
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