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Moriarty looks at Future Supernatural Hollywood Fare: A STIR OF ECHOES and THE SIXTH SENSE

Moriarty has just one more report to go.... The film he feels is the best horror film of the decade.... and... well come December 31st of this year I might make that same comment about the film. I'll tell ya then. But without further ado here is the dear Professor...

Hey, Head Geek...

"Moriarty" here.

I know I missed an entire day of updates with the fifth part of my Supernatural Week series, but it isn't easy dealing with something like this. The screaming from the walls of the Labs goes on for hours at a time now, and light bulbs have begun exploding every time I walk into a room. The priests we brought in have since resigned from the Church altogether and were last seen behind the wheel of a hot rod en route to Las Vegas. Peter Venkmann finally returned my call with a single phrase. I'd repeat it, but I'm Evil, not obscene. And through it all, I'm trying to meet all my obligations, keep acting like it's business as usual. Imagine -- I'm trying to juggle an actual full-on paranormal incident that's affecting every square inch of the Moriarty Labs, and at the same time, I'm in the midst of preparations for one of my single greatest Evil Missions while still doing my damnedest to make sure that you, the readers of AICN, get the proper heads up on what's most worth your time in the months ahead.

Not that I'm not having a good time, mind you.

I've gone back and forth over which script to give the edge to as Best of the Supernatural Thrillers, and I've decided to declare a tie. It's fitting in many ways, since the films are actually very similar. Normally in cases like this, there's one project that's the clear winner, but that's not the case here. Both of these films have the potential to really work and become smart, subtle classics of the genre. I'm speaking of David Koepp's second film as a director, A STIR OF ECHOES, and the new film from M. Night Shyamalan, THE SIXTH SENSE. One stars Kevin Bacon, the other stars Bruce Willis. They both center on children who can see and communicate with ghosts, and they both manage to transcend the conventions of the genre with genuine characterization, unsettling imagery that pulls no punches, and raw emotional content that grounds the films in reality.

A STIR OF ECHOES is based on a novel by Richard Matheson, and it was adapted for the screen by Koepp. I know that it's fashionable to bash Koepp among many fanboys, but it's not really fair. He's a great writer, adept at painting a strong picture on the page. The first page of his script sets a strong tone that he never loses control of in a simple scene of a four-year-old boy talking to no one, alone in the bathtub, answering question after question that we can't hear. At the end of the scene, as we realize there's no one in the room, the boy, Jake, says, "Can I ask you a question?" He makes sure his mother isn't listening before whispering, "Does it hurt to be dead?"

We meet Jake's father Tom Witzky, the Kevin Bacon role, and his mother Maggie, and Koepp does a nice job of etching this family in a few short scenes. They're real people, and when Tom and Maggie head to a neighborhood party, Koepp continues his deft character work as he paints a picture of an entire community, a tight knit Chicago neighborhood full of old friends, families that have been there for decades. By taking his time, Koepp really sets up how normal and solid the world around Tom is. That way, when Koepp pulls the rug out from under him, it counts.

And midway through the party, that's exactly what he does. What starts out as a simple conversation about hypnotism turns into an experiment with Tom as the guinea pig. Koepp does an outstanding job of painting the process through Tom's eyes, and I can't wait to see how he's visualized this sequence. The so-called "theater" scenes in this film are going to be discussed quite extensively after the film's release is my guess. To everyone at the party, the hypnotism is just a fun party trick at Tom's expense. To Tom, though, it turns out to be a trigger, a doorway into an altered consciousness that doesn't shut off when he wakes up. In fact, it's like he's woken up too far. Tom begins to see and hear the same things as Jake. He sees a dead girl in his living room in the middle of the night. He begins to get headaches, see visions. When Koepp begins to tighten the screws in the script, the action really picks up fast and never lets up till the end. There are some profound twists and turns along the way, but Koepp manages to stake some fresh ground in the genre. He keeps things grounded in reality even as he takes some wild leaps of fancy, bringing in an entire group of people who can all see and hear like Jake and Tom, revealing a greater purpose running under the events of the film. In addition to some real, stark psychological terror in the script, there's hope, humanity, and heart. Tom's a decent guy, a lead who's a hero because of his actions, not because of the $20 million paid to the actor playing him. We want him to save his family, his sanity, his son. We want him to figure out how to turn his newfound "gift" to his advantage. This film has a central mystery at the heart of it, all of it tied to the main haunting, and the resolution of that mystery reveals how banal and human evil can be, while the final scene of the script reveals how wondrous and even positive the supernatural can be. This is a script that was a real joy to read, and anyone interested in the art of writing for film should seek the script out. Here's hoping someone like Applause has the good sense to publish it. Koepp has proven himself to be a competent filmmaker with THE TRIGGER EFFECT, and this film may lift him into a new level in his career. Here's hoping he pulls it off.

THE SIXTH SENSE is a very different film in some ways, as it's not about a mystery so much as it is a film about secrets. The characters have their secrets, and so does the film. This one presents a unique marketing challenge to Disney/Mirimax/Caravan/whoever the heck is actually distributing the film. I've seen it reported a few different ways. Whoever it is, don't blow it. Don't pull a TRUMAN SHOW and give it away. Also, don't pull a CRYING GAME and sell the film like the surprise is all that matters. The whole film is worthwhile, and the payoff is just gravy, the icing that finishes the cake.

The script opens with Malcolm Crowe, played by Bruce Willis, just arriving home, still celebrating a career high with his wife Anna. He's a psychologist who works with children, and he's just been recognized with an award from the mayor's office for his work. He and his wife are a little drunk, obviously very much in love, and they make their way through the house, shedding clothes as they go, finally ending up in their bedroom, where they flip on the lights and freeze.

The bedroom window is broken, and there's a boy of about 19 on the bed, sitting, waiting for them. It's obvious he's been on the streets for a while. He's gaunt, dirty, ragged. He's also obviously at wit's end. He starts talking to Malcolm, making fun of Malcolm's award. "You said everything would be all right. You said there was nothing to be afraid of. You said I was upset about my parent's divorce. You were wrong." Malcolm searches his memory, finally comes up with the kid's name. Vincent Gray. It's been almost ten years since he's seen him. Malcolm treated him, but was never able to really get through to him. Malcolm offers to try again, to help.

Vincent's response is simple. He shoots Malcolm, then kills himself.

Two years later, the script begins in earnest as we meet the new Malcolm, a haunted man, totally different. His confidence is gone. He moves like he's never healed right. He is tormented daily by his failure with Vincent, and he has stopped communicating with Anna completely. They live like strangers, in the same space but never connecting. Malcolm is given a chance, a case, his first since the incident. It's a boy named Cole Sear, and his profile is identical to Vincent's. Malcolm sees his chance at redemption and starts to work with Cole.

More than any of the scripts I've described in this series, I have to be vague about this one. I first read it over a year ago, and just reread it earlier tonight when making my final choices here. It's marvelous, a near-perfect example of storytelling. This is the same screenwriter who wrote the exceptional first draft of STUART LITTLE, the one that Rob Minkoff and his team of retards has managed to turn into a Disney-ized fart joke much to my horror. He also wrote a great script called LABOR OF LOVE. The common thread between his work is that he is an exceptional observer of human nature. He manages to pitch just the right emotional tone throughout each of his works, really cutting through all the falsity of your typical Hollywood crap. There's such elegance in the way SIXTH SENSE balances its horror, its heart, and its very real attempt to say something profound about the effect we have on the lives around us. I really respect this guy as a writer, and I hope Bruce Willis knocks us out with his work in the film. He's never had a role this good before, and it could change people's perceptions of him all over again. Between this, THE STORY OF US, and BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, Bruce looks to be having one hell of a year. This is definitely not Willis in action hero mode. These are the choices that guys like Stallone and Schwarzeneggar wish they could make, but there's no realistic way they could pull off a film like this. Willis has it in him, and I am rooting for him to do it.

There's an ending to this script that should level the audience emotionally, and I'm expecting that a strong release strategy for this movie could help it onto many of next year's "Best Of" lists. That's a rarity for films outside the mainstream drama category, but here's a script, like the upcoming STEIBECK'S POINT OF VIEW (which is more of a light fantasy), that could cross over and be something that reaches a wide spectrum of viewers and really affects them.

And that's it for my Hollywood roundup, everyone. I've already covered SLEEPY HOLLOW and THE MUMMY, both of which look to be wicked fun, in previous columns. There's a few other films in this vein in the work, but they're nowhere near finished the way the ones I've covered here have been.

Wait... the noise just stopped.

And the walls... they're drying up.

I think I did it. I think I figured out what I was supposed to do. This coverage was the key. Now I'm free, free to pull off my greatest adventure ever. Even now, they're fueling up the Moriarty Travel Wagon and preparing the onboard computer with maps to Las Vegas. I'm heading for the only city on Earth that's more Evil than I am, and if that doesn't scare Hollywood enough...

... I've got press credentials.

As always, you can hit me via e-mail at, or you can send me actual real life mail (including any nefarious items like scripts or clips or photos or whatever) at the address above the Moriarty Labs. I figure that since their construction started all the hubbub down here, I'll use them as the perfect cover for my various infernal activities. That address?

Moriarty c/o
3435 Ocean Park Blvd. Ste. 112
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Tomorrow's going to be my final installment in this series before I bail town, a look at the decade's scariest film. You've all guessed it by now, so be here when I take on THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • March 6, 1999, 4:34 p.m. CST


    by Everett Robert

    both of those movies sound exceptionally good. Can't wiat to see both of tem.

  • March 6, 1999, 5:07 p.m. CST

    I've always like Bruce Willis...

    by Prankster

    He's been great in a number of great movies (Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, Die Hard) and the best thing about a number of others (5th Element, Armaggeddon, the other Die Hards). Throw in a couple of overlooked performances that show he can really stretch (Death Becomes Her, North) and you have the makings of a great actor. Yet people still pooh-pooh him. A lot of folks groaned when they heard he was in Breakfast of Champions. But he's an excellent choice for the psychotic car salesman Dwayne Hoover, and now with the supposedly great Sixth Sense (Corona also rhapsodizes about it) upcoming, maybe Willis will finally get some respect. Dare I say...even a little gold man?

  • March 6, 1999, 7:43 p.m. CST

    Moriarty: Stallone & Schwarzenegger can pull it off

    by ABking

    First of all, Stallone could realistically pull off a role like the one Willis plays in THE SIXTH SENCE. If he can pull off playing a character like Freddy in COP LAND, he can pull off many things. Also, you say redemtion is a part of the story in THE SIXTH SENCE, well redemtion is a theme in some of Stallone's films. Now for Arnold. You shouldn't say he can't pull off a role like that until he tries it. I read the script for WITH WINGS AS EAGLES and I think it is a GREAT start for Arnold to do some good dramatic work. His character might be a killing machine, but he is also a family man that goes through the tragedy of his sons death. I put up a script review over at DARK HORIZONS.COM, so go take a look at it or read the "EAGLES" script. You'll see that I'm right. I already know how you feel about END OF DAYS and DETOX, so I'll wait for those to come out before I comment on them again. ABking out.

  • March 6, 1999, 9:19 p.m. CST

    M. Night Shayamalan

    by mrbeaks

    After reading Moriarty's review, I realized that Shayamalan was the writer/director of WIDE AWAKE, a film that, while not entirely successful, tackled spiritual subject matter in a way that Hollywood rarely does; that is, intelligently. Seeing as how he's relatively new to the ol' grind, I have reason to believe that we should expect great things from Mr. Shayamalan. As for Bruce, I think the only people who sell his talent short are film critics. Within the industry, his abilities are generally held in pretty high regard. In my opinion, one of his greatest triumphs is considered his most ignominious failure: HUDSON HAWK. I know it's not for everyone, you've got to have a pretty high tolerance for silliness, but the critical reaction it received upon its release has always seemed undeserved. Most of it consisted of potshots at Willis' very high opinion of himself. I guess it never occured to them that, in many ways, his arrogance was pretty well deserved.

  • March 7, 1999, 1:18 a.m. CST

    Moriarty at ShoWest? Yey!

    by Martin Q Blank

    It is SO great to hear that one of the AICN regulars is making it to ShoWest. Although anonymous contributors are still good, it's nice to have some one you know reporting. Good work.

  • March 7, 1999, 2:29 a.m. CST

    I can't believe I gave Moriarty my Press pass...

    by Harry Knowles

    Moriarty is EVIL. I am still fuming over this. You see folks.... MONTHS ago I agreed to go to this film festival up in Winnipeg... I figured, "I've never been to Winnipeg... I loved Canada last year.... Sure... Why not..." Then... All of a sudden like, it dawns on me.... When I get this phone call from the Press Dude in charge of things at ShoWest inviting to give me press credentials if I could make it out for it. I think.... "Great, EWS...SWE1....Green MIle.... Coolness abounds... and I won't be there on a studio dollar so all the 'Harry's a sellout bastard' folks can take a rest for a bit" Buuuuuuuuut Nooooooooooooo.... Oh god no..... I am going to Winnipeg. I thought about weasaling... but then I thought.... I'm not a weasal.... I honor my commitments, so... Because the site is more important than my own petty geekiness (How the hell did that happen?) I decide to call up the Press dude and get Moriarty in. I hate Moriarty. Moriarty is evil.... I wannna go. Sigh.... He better report like a friggin GOD while he's there or I'll I'll just shake real hard and pout. ARGH.... Evil man... evil evil evil man. Ewwwwwwwwwww.... He's a lily ya know... a lily...

  • March 7, 1999, 5:16 a.m. CST

    Harry Has No Idea What Real Evil Is

    by Moriarty

    Harry hasn't read my reports yet. He doesn't know that I'm planning on capturing every sight, scent, sound, and second of the ShoWest experience. He's going to sit in Winnipeg cursing my name, coming up with new and blistering combinations of obscenity to roast me from a distance. I have yet to display my true evil colors to their full advantage. I fully expect he'll hire a hit man to take me out by the time the coverage is finished. I need you all to witness it. If I stop posting, you know what's happened. He's snapped, and I've brought him completely over to the dark side. BWU-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!! "Moriarty" out.

  • March 7, 1999, 7:38 a.m. CST

    House On Haunted Hill?

    by American Psycho

    Has anyone heard anything about this one, supposedly a remake of the olf Vincent Price dig that's gonna star...Marilyn Manson, Jeff Goldblum, and Rose McGowan? Is this true or am I drunk? AMERICAN PSYCHO

  • March 7, 1999, 10:54 a.m. CST

    Kubrick is dead

    by Migs

    News has just broke that Stanley Kubrick has died this morning (Sunday). God bless you Stanley, I'll miss you.

  • March 7, 1999, 11:18 a.m. CST

    the passing of a legend, good bye Stanley Kubrick

    by spike lee

    I just heard that Stanley Kubrick passed away this morning. Kubrick's films and styles will carry on to inspire filmakers who will try to follow in his footsteps. All my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

  • March 7, 1999, 11:22 a.m. CST

    Stanley Kubrick Dead at 70

    by Digiting

    It is indeed true. Can't quiet fathom it yet myself. It's a sad day for movie afficionados everywhere.

  • March 7, 1999, 11:24 a.m. CST

    We have lost an original.....

    by Kefrif

    Goodbye Stanley. You affected more film watchers, makers, and professionals than you could ever dream of. Stanley once said that you need to be a good photographer to be a good film-maker. You don't need to be a good photographer to mourn Kubrick. Eyes Wide Shut will be his last film. By the looks of things, he's gone out with a bang. I just hope that WB don't get cold feet and try to delay its release. I couldn't deal with that. Rest in Peace, Stanley....

  • Aug. 26, 2002, 11:23 a.m. CST

    Bruce Willis is really Dead!!

    by Josef K

    I wonder who hasn't seen it in three years...

  • July 10, 2006, 9:02 a.m. CST

    No, that's just his acting, Josef.

    by Wolfpack