Everybody sees dead people these days.
Kevin Bacon joins the ranks of the second-sighters in "Stir of Echoes," a supernatural thriller possessed by the same macabre spirit as "The Sixth Sense." Like that box office phenomenon, "Echoes" draws its strength from its well-drawn characters rather than an excess of gore, cheap scare tactics or a fog of spectral effects.
Writer-director David Koepp, the writer behind "Jurassic Park" and "Mission Impossible," takes a low-key approach to this shivery, albeit stale, summer chiller. That's not to say the movie is without a good jolt or two. Koepp can't help himself; sometimes he just has to jump out and go "Boo!"
The story, based on Richard Matheson's 1958 novel, bears an uncanny similarity to "The Sixth Sense." But ultimately this clammy tale of a restless ghost and a spooked-out psychic is more orthodox, even a little dated, in the telling and outcome.
The film opens with a happy, homey image that is positively Rockwellian: A handsome young father, Tom Witzky (Bacon), supervises his 6-year-old, Jake (Zachary David Cope), at bath time. When he goes off in search of Jake's favorite jammies, the adorable moppet casually acknowledges a ghostly apparition. Jake has been seeing its like for so long now that he's positively blase about the visitation.
His father, a wiry telephone lineman, has quite another reaction after being hypnotized at a neighborhood keg party. Left with the posthypnotic suggestion that he open his mind, the former skeptic is suddenly overwhelmed by unsettling visions dominated by the specter of a teenage girl with a bruised face and pleading eyes.
Spurred on by her troubled presence, Tom becomes obsessed with learning what happened to the young woman, a crusade that threatens to destroy his family and the reputation of their proud Chicago neighborhood. At the very least, his fixation threatens to undermine his relationship with his long-suffering wife (Kathryn Erbe), even as it brings him closer to his son.
Backed by the likable Erbe and the self-possessed young Cope, Bacon makes convincing work of Tom's near-religious journey from hardened skepticism to spiritual enlightenment. There's no doubt about it: Joe Six-Pack has seen the light.
Alas, even the dimmest of bulbs would have little trouble solving this mystery, which pales in originality alongside "The Sixth Sense" and "The Blair Witch Project." It certainly doesn't take a psychic to figure it out.
Stir of Echoes (110 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for language and brief scenes of sex and violence.
CAPTION: Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Erbe play a couple plagued by apparitions in "Stir of Echoes."