STIR OF ECHOES, one of the best thrillers of the 1990s, was released the same day as STIGMATA, a piece of shit movie helmed by the director of THE FOG and BLANK CHECK, and strangely STIR OF ECHOES got its ass royally beat when the weekend receipts were totaled. Of course, STIGMATA kicked out a trailer featuring bloody wounds, whiplash-inducing jump cuts, and Patricia Arquette talking in a Satan voice, while the trailer for STIR OF ECHOES—with its creepy, bug-eyed kid talking about all the ghosts he sees and likewise adopting the apparently in-vogue late 90s Satan voice—just made it look like a chunky regurgitation of THE SIXTH SENSE. STIR OF ECHOES died a quick death at the box office and then went straight to DVD heaven, where it finally received the recognition and cultish attention it deserves. Writer/director David Koepp’s creative techniques were copied and mimicked by lesser thrillers in the years to follow, and the film is probably responsible for earning him the cool $4 million he pocketed for his PANIC ROOM script. Apparently he was too busy working on the new Indiana Jones movie to lend his talents to a Rob Lowe-headlined direct-to-DVD sequel. Hard to comprehend.
But good news, ECHOES fans! Infamous hack master Ernie Barbarash (Cube Zero) apparently had a little wiggle room in his schedule. In STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING, Lowe phones it in as Ted Cogan, a traumatized soldier sent home after being wounded in Iraq in a civilian casualty screw up. Soon after his return to his wife and teenage son, Cogan begins seeing some really fucked up shit, almost all of it plagued with unnecessary jump scares accentuated by a very abrasive score. A large portion of HOMECOMING is random and scattered, as Cogan is mentally and emotionally tormented by apparitions in scene after scene after purposeless scene. Finally Cogan hooks up with Jake Witzky, once the Satan-voiced kid from the original film, now a sage and irritatingly intense blind man, who gives him the whole “You are a receiver now” speech, and the movie makes an exasperating transformation into a crime drama, as Cogan starts trying to communicate with the ghosts and obtain some clues and try to solve the ghost’s murder so the ghost can get to heaven and be with its family blah blah blah.
HOMECOMING has more than its fair share of problems, so I’ll only choose a couple of my favorites to touch on. First, maybe I’m just a naïve civilian, but the war atrocity that haunts Cogan doesn’t seem like all that big of a deal. So, he’s in charge of a military checkpoint and he gives the order to open fire on a dark, muddy van that is speeding toward the checkpoint and refuses to stop even after warning shots are fired. After hunkering down with their rifles and totally unloading on the van, which eventually explodes, the troops find it packed with a civilian family who are now all dead and burned up. Cogan is all tore up inside, but man, I think that’s just what happens when you drive a dark muddy van at supersonic speeds toward a military checkpoint in Iraq. If I ran into the airport with a huge black backpack with wires sticking out of it and wouldn’t listen to anybody who tried to stop me and attempted to board a plane, well, let’s just say if an air marshal riddled me with 9 millimeter bullets, I wouldn’t be tremendously surprised.
Cogan’s character arc is very shallow; he acts bonkers from the moment he hits American soil and remains that way throughout the film. As a protagonist, he simply acts too insane to sympathize with. Even when he’s not seeing ghosts, he’s losing his temper unexpectedly, screaming at his wife, refusing to get a job, staring off into space, exhibiting a whole gamut of psychosis-inspired character traits. If I was married to Cogan, I wouldn’t listen to any of his nonsense about ghosts, I would think he was batshit crazy, too. I mean, there are probably a lot of people who believe they have seen a ghost, but I’m sure they don’t all wave their hands around and yell angrily every time they talk about the experience. Narrative structure is also an issue; the entire first hour is swamped with Cogan’s frequent and repetitive encounters with the charred ghost that haunts him, scenes that add nothing to the story as a whole. The final half hour, in which the crime is finally discovered and solved, seems like a mere afterthought.
It goes without saying that any STIR OF ECHOES sequel made without Koepp’s involvement is sure to turn out to be a real hack job, and this shoe definitely fits HOMECOMING. If you’re into random jump scares and stew-faced burn victims, get your hands on STIR OF ECHOES 2 and store it proudly next to your copy of STARSHIP TROOPERS 2:HEROES OF THE FEDERATION.