Ted Cogan returns from the war in Iraq after accidentally ordering a strike that kills a civilian family. Once he returns home, he begins to suffer what he believes are hallucinations caused by the post-traumatic disorder.
Stir of Echoes 2: The Homecoming is a movie that is based around the effects of the war in Iraq on the soldiers and families that are affected by the war. That sounds strange when you are talking about a sequel to a movie about ghosts. The only ties to the original Kevin Bacon film is the character of Jake Witzky and the fact that the plotline involves a ghost needing the mystery of his death solved. I think Witzky was just added to tie it to the previous movie and help sell this one because it is just a regular ghost story otherwise.
When looking at the movie from the outside, you would think that it is going to be straight-to-DVD junk starring Rob Lowe (see the Salem’s Lot remake). This movie is so much smarter than that, however, and actually carries a message that most movies of this type would never dare to touch.
When the movie starts, Ted Cogan (Lowe) is fighting in the war in Iraq and goes on alert when a van recklessly drives straight towards his unit. Without much time to think, he orders a strike on the van and has it destroyed. Unfortunately, the van was occupied by a civilian family, now all dead, burned to a crisp. The van explodes and Ted ends up in a coma, where it is expected that he would die or remain in a vegetable state. He comes out of it however, and finds his life is changed. He now sees things, burned and scarred individuals, ghosts, who seem to be looking for some kind of help.
Just as Kevin Bacon’s character had to do in the first movie, Cogan has to find out exactly what the ghosts are trying to tell him and help them with whatever they need before they destroy him. Just as in the first movie, the ghosts are not evil, only angry and agitated they cannot get their point across to the host that has been chosen to see them. What separates this from many other ghost stories is the commentary on the U.S. war in Iraq.
We see Cogan as he attempts to get treatment for what he believes is post-traumatic stress disorder. He is told he has to wait three months for word on getting help, displaying the apparent lack of care towards the soldiers. We also get a large dose of the jingoistic patriotism that makes its way through American youth thanks to the built in “us versus them” propaganda that comes with every war. The stance of the writers and directors on the war in Iraq is obvious throughout the movie. Racism is prevalent in this country and the war against another country only helps to fuel the fire that already rests here. The movie shows that, although it is a little too over the top at times.
The acting is hit or miss here. Rob Lowe is fantastic in the lead, never lowering himself to the crazy war veteran that can destroy a movie based around these themes. He remains a stable man who understands that there is something wrong with him and needs to find out what is going on. Marnie McPhail is a different story. She plays almost the same role as Kathryn Erbe in the first movie. It is a thankless role when you play the wife of a man who sees ghosts and can do nothing about it except stand around confused and angry at her own lack of understanding. McPhail is a better actress than Erbe, but that is like out acting a rock. However, when compared to Lowe she remains the weak link in this movie.
The look of the film is average at best. The opening sequence with the attack on the van is shot in much the same style as Jarhead and Three Kings, with the entire sequence washed out and the camera work shaky and urgent. It is quite a shock watching this sequence because it is not what I expected when I popped this movie in. After the Iraq sequences ended, we get a more typical horror movie look and it is just an average directorial job. It is nothing special, but nothing that is offensive either. It is an above average made for TV movie, which is all you can expect it to be.
I felt the first Stir of Echoes was a welcome surprise. Released at the same time as Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project, I felt that it stood above both of those movies in some ways and remains a strong tight horror movie today. This follow-up never reaches the level of its predecessor, but remains an interesting little movie. It attempts to reach heights that other genre pictures never try by adding in the hot button topic of the effects of the war of Iraq. It is more than you would expect from a ghost story and for that reason succeeds on a small level.
The look of the movie is decent, shot in 16×9 widescreen. The sound is offered in both 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Dolby Digital. For a made for TV movie, this is a nice presentation.
There is a short documentary over the making of the movie entitled Stir of Echoes Homecoming: The Perspective and includes interviews with Rob Lowe, Marnie McPhail and director Ernie Barbarash. It is short and to the point and offers not much more than the cast and director talking about how happy they are with the finished product. There are also eight deleted scenes. There is very little in these scenes as most is just extensions of scenes already in the movie. There is also a commentary with the director and editor which gives some nice information, but their voices remain dry and un-engaging, almost putting you to sleep as you listen to them talk.