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'Stir of Echoes' is a reminder that Kevin Bacon is a horror icon
After more than 20 years, Stir of Echoes might be Kevin Bacon's finest horror showcase.
Horror is a thread that runs through almost all of Kevin Bacon's varied career as a film and TV star. It helped launch his career with Friday the 13th, helped him become a cult star with Tremors, and stays with him still in recent projects like You Should Have Left and They/Them. It's a genre that's given him the opportunity to play heroes, villains, victims, and in the case of Stir of Echoes, an imperfect man caught between known and unknown, simply trying to survive an experience that expands his consciousness to reach places he never imagined.
Though Bacon's horror career is rather diverse thanks to more than 40 years of working in the genre, Stir of Echoes might be the finest showcase of his work in his long association with scary movies. Now streaming on Peacock, it's a film that makes excellent use of Bacon's talents and his place in the public consciousness as a movie star, and serves as a reminder that, while he's many other things, Bacon was and is a horror icon.
Kevin Bacon, you see, has one of those faces. Like fellow genre icon Bill Paxton, he's a guy you could almost expect to run into at your local bar or at the next pump at a gas station, and it doesn't ever feel like a put-on affectation. There's Americana etched in his face, thanks in part to breakout films like Footloose, but also to the straightforward, tactile way he performs. That quality is to put to especially good use by writer/director David Koepp in Stir of Echoes, who calls upon Bacon to play a classic genre arc: The skeptic who becomes a believer.
Bacon's Tom Witzky is a guy working for the phone company in Chicago, who dreams of being a musician and has long-since started to worry that those dreams have passed him by, that greatness in any form has given up on him. His wife Maggie (Kathryn Ebbe) reminds him at several points throughout the film that he has a great life, with her by his side and their young son Jake (Zachary David Cope) looking up to him. None of that quiets this nagging sense within Tom that he wasn't supposed to just be a phone lineman, that something else should have called on him by now.
The calling Tom wants finally does come, but not in the form he expected. After his sister-in-law (Illeana Douglas) calls his bluff on a dare to hypnotize him, she plants a suggestion in his mind that it will become open to... well, pretty much anything that happens to be around. For Tom, that means a years-old murder in his neighborhood is resurfacing in the form of a ghostly young woman who haunts his dreams and his waking hours.
This lets Bacon spend a lot of the film playing a guy who seems to be slowly unraveling before the eyes of everyone around him, from his wife to his neighbors to the people who might know more than they're willing to say about the ghost. This is a classic character dynamic that's often explored in horror fiction, and Bacon plays it with the steadfast resolution of an actor who knows how to commit. But what makes Stir of Echoes special goes beyond the actor's resolve to do the job right, and into something a little more cerebral.
Matheson is one of genre fiction's great practitioners of the marriage between the mundane and the fantastic. Stephen King credits him as possibly the most influential writer when it comes to his own style, itself a blending of mundane and fantastic, and his work has been instrumental in everything from The Twilight Zone to the career of Steven Spielberg. He was a legend because he was one of the most important voices in the movement to bring horror fiction out of the Gothic castles and into your living room, and it's that quality in his work that Koepp latches onto most clearly despite some story changes in adapting the film to the screen.
It's also that quality that Bacon seems most cognizant of when he digs deep into the details of who Tom is and what he wants. He's a guy who dreams of something more, who just so happened to find that something more not on a stage somewhere, but on his living room couch, where a dead girl appears to him and flashes images in his brain. He's a guy who found secrets and big ideas not on the road, but at a block party, and a guy who learns the best way to unlock those secrets might just be to go dig around in his basement.
Bacon's performance underscores this juxtaposition by emphasizing the tactile, workaday quality not just of Tom's life, but of the way Tom thinks about the world. We see him lazily picking away at a guitar as these problems turn in his mind, watch him languish on his couch as he claws for answers which don't seem to come, and finally observe him throwing the whole wait of his blue collar muscle into a backyard dig that he hopes will free him of the suffering in his mind. Bacon's Tom is a man whose particular angst about his place in the world has driven him to eventually tear his own home apart in the search for where, exactly, that place is, and Bacon plays all of that angst and all of that longing through every second of the film. It's that longing, and the purity with which Bacon conveys it, that makes the horror elements of Stir of Echoes truly frightening, because they're all rooted in something real, something anyone who's ever felt lost in their own life can feel. It might not be the best horror film he's ever been in, but for that reason, Stir of Echoes remains an essential Kevin Bacon horror performance.
Stir of Echoes is now streaming on Peacock.