Appellate Judge Tom Becker was stirred by this movie, but not in a good way.
"Let me guess: You see dead people."
Ted Cogan (Rob Lowe, St. Elmo's Fire) is a National Guardsman stationed in Iraq. When a van pulls into his checkpoint, he orders it to stop, but it doesn't. He orders his men to fire a warning shot, but they shoot up the van instead. A few booms and crackles later, an Iraqi girl comes out of the van, then blewy!—the whole thing catches fire, and Soldier Ted sees that they've just char-broiled an innocent family. Before he has time to contemplate this, a mortar shell blows up, leaving our man comatose.
Ted survives and gets shipped home, but he's haunted by this incident—literally. Every time he turns around, there's some kind of ghostly figure with a bubbling molasses look to it. Acting on a tip from the spirit world, Ted seeks out a blind guy in a flophouse who can chat with the deceased. You'd think such a talent would be marketable, but then the blind guy wouldn't be holed up in a skanky, dimly lit room. Anyway, Blind Guy saves the movie from a nine-hour running time by summing up what we've already figured out: The dead are trying to tell Ted something and get him to right some wrong, and his family is in danger—his family consisting of perky wife (Marnie McPhail, Sugar) and surly teen-age son (Ben Lewis).
But the dead, as is their wont, do not communicate clearly. Since they have the ability to inhabit a person's consciousness and create elaborate alternative realities, you'd think they could master something simple like a few lines on a Post-It note. Instead, they drag poor Ted through a confusing and pointless mystery, stopping along the way to make him see scary things and torture him with a cigarette lighter.
This film is yet another shoddy in-name-only sequel. Stir of Echoes was a modest little chiller in which Kevin Bacon saw dead people. It was released in 1999, the same year Haley Joel Osment saw dead people in The Sixth Sense, and Echoes was the also-ran. The original SoE was creepy and well-acted.
Stir of Echoes 2: The Homecoming is not just a bad horror movie, it's a reprehensible one. It takes legitimate issues—the killing of civilians in a war zone, and how the situation with the Middle East has engendered a crisis of conscience in the United States and created a dangerous and reactionary environment—and whores them in service of cheap shocks and incomprehensible storytelling.
Even without its simple-minded social conceits, SoE2 sucks. Most horror-mysteries throw us a few red herrings to keep us guessing, but this 89-minute abomination gives us 75 minutes of plot that turn out to have nothing to do with the denouement, as well as some "premonitions" from Ted that aren't really premonitions, since they don't actually happen.
This is why SoE2 rises above crap to the realm of offensive. Its false plot gives us all kinds of stuff about the plight of returning soldiers, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and how people on the homefront are—and are not—coping, along with some unsettling business about a man who was beheaded by terrorists. But then we find that these provocative elements are only there to justify the inclusion of a graphic, horrible, and out-of-left-field incident involving some supporting characters. Boy, are we fooled! While our emotions are played with via thoughts of real-life, headline-ripped tragedy, it's all just a set up for a story that could just as easily involve a softball team on a camping trip.
The extras only help point up the film's cringe-inducing aspirations. Given that this is a ludicrous ghost story, there is something tasteless in Rob Lowe's prattling on about his character being a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder. Soldier Ted's crispy-critter apparitions are given a "logical" resolution, unlike the real-life, crippling horrors experienced by those who actually are making the adjustment after serving honorably. A commentary track gives us the director/writer and the editor pointing out the wonders of the script and actors and backslapping about the "deeper meanings" and surprises-that-await, as though this low-rent cheese was actually something clever and relevant.
SoE2 was originally shown on the Sci-Fi Channel where, I'm guessing, the occasional crude language was edited out. It looks like a TV movie, flat and bland. The transfer is generally acceptable, though some of the darker scenes have a grainy look, particularly one about 15 minutes in. The 5.1 audio track gives a good rendition of all the "spooky" ambient sounds, jumpy music cues, and wretched dialogue.
Oh, and just to legitimize the connection to the first Stir of Echoes, the Blind Guy is actually a character from the 1999 film. Try to ignore the fact that he was a 5-year-old then and is in his twenties eight years later.
Stir of Echoes 2: The Homecoming is a sloppy, pretentious, insulting mess. Please remove it from my court.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Director Ernie Barbarash and Editor Mitch Lackie
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