“Does it hurt to be dead?”
Those words being the dark journey through murder and the paranormal that is “Stir of Echoes.”
Kevin Bacon plays a man who accidentally gets a latent power of being able to hear the dead with volume turned onto full. This would be annoying in and of itself, but he’s living in a house where someone was murdered. Psychic powers are difficult to control if you’ve grown up with them, to go from zero to full blast in a day will drive you absolutely crazy…and it does drive Kevin Bacon’s crazy.
Although he was asking for it. He did say “What’s the worst that could happen?” We all know that next to “As long as nothing bad happens” that is about as terrible a jinx as you can get.
Obviously ghosts, those who have died but can’t move on, bring up the inherent fear of death but they also bring up the heavily related fear of the unknown. What are they? What do they want? Why didn’t they move on? The maddening frustration that comes when you get part of the story but not all of it, that you understand something is happening but you don’t know what, that you know you have to do something but have no clue what it is. The helplessness of not knowing. It can be one of the worst fears in the world, and since it’s something we’ve all experienced (although likely not to this extreme degree) we can empathize can feel the terror that such a situation causes—this movie just takes them to a horrifying extreme.
It is based on a book by Richard Matheson (who also wrote “I am Legend” which was much better than the movie, hat Dreams May Come very different from the movie so hard to compare, and “Steel” which was ruined by Hugh Jackman very soon…he also penned the Twilight Zone episode where Shatner sees the creature on the wing of the plane and that Star Trek episode where Kirk was split in two) who is an excellent writer so I can assume the book is as good if not better than the film, but I have not read it so I can’t be absolutely sure in that knowledge….I mean to get around to reading it just haven’t yet. Judging what I know of Matheson’s style the book probably went into the intricacies of how people experience and deal with psychic powers. This movie touches on some of that, how it comes in waves and images that are not always understandable. Skeptics like to complain about how weird it is that psychics can’t just talk to people who in life were quite able to converse…but the thing they’re ignoring is that when you die you leave your vocal chords behind and are left with only your mind. Look at your own mind for a minute…is every thought a pure and logical sequence of words? Or are there emotions, images, sounds, smell, memories of different times all at once, thoughts that preexist any definition in sense or words. I would hazard that most of us do not have perfect control of our minds…add to that the unfamiliarity of being out of your body and it gets even more chaotic. And that’s what a psychic picks up. That random train of thought. So when it comes, as it does to Kevin Bacon in the form of disjointed images and half-dozen notes of “Paint it Black” it will drive you up the wall.
In addition to all of this fear that comes from the madness of the unknown, there are the overtones of the “Cask of Amontillado” in the way the ghost’s body has been buried and the hint that this will never end for our characters creates a tone of darkness that strikes just the right chord of terror of the unknown.