Ghost Story

The timing of "Stir of Echoes" is either very good or very bad, depending on how many ghosts the public cares to cozy up to this summer. Fresh on the heels of the quietly creepy "The Sixth Sense," we have another movie in which a little boy--5-year-old Jake Witzky (Zachary David Cope)--is on speaking terms with the dead. Actually, Jake is a red herring in David Koepp's horror movie. This is the story of his dad, Tom (Kevin Bacon). A blue-collar Chicago guy, Tom starts seeing disturbing visions after he's been hypnotized at a party. Is he going mad, or is there really a ghoulishly pale girl sitting in his living room? "Don't be afraid of it, Daddy," his supernaturally precocious son tells him calmly. Evidently this gift runs in the family.

"The Sixth Sense" combined two genres not ordinarily linked--the ghost story and the tear-jerker. "Stir of Echoes," based on a 1958 Richard Matheson novel, takes a more predictable turn. It merges the horror genre with the whodunit, revealing that the ghostly girl was murdered. "Echoes" is at its best in its mysterious, genuinely chilling first half. But as the plot kicks in, the hysteria mounts and the explanations start coming, the tension starts to dissipate. Like Bacon's strenuous attempt to sound working class, the movie tries too hard. Why, in one scene, does little Jake suddenly talk in a deep "Exorcist" voice? It has nothing to do with anything, except Koepp's desperation. Too bad. This coulda been a contender.