A film review by Craig J. Koban
2007, PG-13, 110 mins.
Linda Hanson: Sandra Bullock / Jim Hanson: Julian McMahon / Annie: Nia Long / Joanne: Kate Nelligan / Claire: Amber Valetta / Dr. Norman Roth: Peter Stormare
Directed by Mennan Yapo / Written by Bill Kelly
PREMONITION is one of those reality-bending thrillers that offers up a unique premise and interesting twist that goes to great lengths to payoff in some meaningful way and – when it does not by the end credits – the only reaction one has is to say is, “Huh? That was it?”
There film's somewhat tantalizing premise is not its problem (what if you found yourself living your days out of order while dealing with a personal tragedy), but rather its manner at dealing with, explaining, and wrapping it up for a reasonable conclusion that spoils the film’s overall value. PREMONITION is a film that has too good of a buildup to warrant such a largely underwhelming conclusion.
Perhaps what spoils the film even more is that is has one of Sandra Bullock’s strongest dramatic performances in years as a grieving widow. As an actress of limitless appeal and innate likeability, Bullock has a field day here at generating our instant sympathy with her role as a wife who has just suffered from a deep and wounding emotional setback. With her every-woman good looks and charisma and her natural way of playing the role with a quiet authority, she is always a plausible figure of sadness and despair in the film. She gives such a soulful and uncharacteristically somber performance in PREMONITION that you are more than willing to forgive her for some of her past film indiscretions, like MISS CONGENIALITY 2, for example.
Unfortunately, what Bullock forgot to do when she signed on for the film was to see the obvious similarities between it and her last drama, THE LAKE HOUSE. Both films deal with time travel, albeit with a somewhat different vibe in PREMONITION's case. The latter film is more a thriller than it is a romance. THE LAKE HOUSE, unfortunately, was not undermined by its bewildering time travel premise, but rather by one glaring plot inconsistency that had to be one of the most annoying of any recent film I’ve seen.
There is nothing wrong with using a time travel device as an arc to tell a story, but oftentimes the best manner to deal with the sheer ludicrousness of the arc is to not go out of your way to explain how it is possible to the viewer. The manner with which PREMONITION attempts to explain how Bullock’s character is able to bounce around in a temporal flux is a real cop out. Let’s just say that the film was kind of effective as a supernatural thriller, but when it attempts to go all religious on the viewer and offer up some hokey, metaphysical mumbo-jumbo explanation, I just wanted to throw my popcorn at the screen and yell, “C’mon!” The film takes an entrancing idea and turns it into a silly gimmick, which hurts it overall.
Bullock plays Linda Hanson, who is a very happily married, upper class suburban housewife that lives a life of affluent normalcy. She has a kind and caring husband named Jim (played well in an underwritten role by Julian McMahon) as well as two cute-as-a-button daughters named Megan (Shyann McClure) and Bridgett (Courtney Taylor Burness). At the beginning of the film Jim surprises Linda with the purchase of their “dream house” and the ecstatic Linda sees it as solid foundation to raise their kids and live out her years with her husband. Everything is going just as planned for the family. Jim is doing very well at his job, their kids are healthy, and their home is immaculate. What could possibly go wrong? Linda’s life is perfect....
...at least until her husband is killed.
One morning, without warning, Linda answers the doorbell and speaks to a local police sheriff, who has the difficult job of telling her that Jim was killed in a horrendous car accident on a highway on his way to a business trip. He was killed instantly when a semi-truck jack-knifed on the road. Bullock’s performance here is brilliant in the way she lets her silence do all of the talking. Instead of breaking down in a would-be Oscar bating moment of emotional turmoil, she quietly cowers deep within herself in a fit of denial and bewilderment. She does such a great job of effectively underplaying the scene that it adds to the realism of the moment. Her later scene where she is forced to reveal the dreadful news to her daughters is equally heartbreaking.
Soon, her mother (Kate Nelligan) arrives on the scene to assist her and her granddaughters with dealing with the loss of Jim. After going through the worst day of her life, Linda drifts off to sleep. When she awakens the next morning the miraculous happens: Jim is alive, in perfect health, and is drinking a cup of coffee, watching the market recap, and preparing for a day at work.
How could this be? Jim is dead; at least that is what the sheriff reported to her the previous day. Did she dream the whole thing? Was she hallucinating? Is she paranoid and on the verge of mental breakdown? Or, does she miss him so much already that she is just imagining Jim there in the kitchen? Yet, Jim seems real and responds with absolute puzzlement to his wife’s very peculiar behaviour. To make matters ever more odd, Linda discovers that it is Monday. She was told on Wednesday that Jim was killed, which would mean that when she feel asleep that night and awoke the next morning that it should be Thursday. Just what in the h-e-double-hockey sticks is going on?
Needless to say, Linda continues on her day like Jim’s death never happened. As she goes to bed that night and wakes up the next morning she is greeted with another shocking twist: she wakes up alone, comes out of her bedroom and journeys to the living room, where all of her friends and family are dressed in black and are at Jim’s wake.
In pure Rod Serling-esque fashion, Linda comes to accept the fact that – for reasons she cannot fathom – she is not living her life in chronological order anymore. Every time she falls asleep she awakens in a previous or later day that does not fit into a natural daily cycle. She falls asleep the day of Jim’s funeral and wakes up again days before he is killed. When she falls asleep that night she awakens on a day after his death. Is she nuts, or is she time traveling?
Her mother and kids sure start to think she's wacky. Yet, Linda appears to be defying the space time continuum and is living her days out of sequence, kind of like in GROUNDHOG DAY, but just not the same day over and over again. She attempts to get some help in the form of a therapist, played by the creepy Peter Stormare, who also thinks she is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. He prescribes her some pills and asks her if he can see her the next day (she sarcastically laughs it off. How could she if she never makes it to the next day?).
As the odd rhythm of living out of sequence continues, Linda discovers some interesting things, like the fact that it is Wednesday that seems to be the central focal point of her odd week (the day Jim died). She is also able to use her disjointed temporal existence to her advantage and learns some terrible truths about Jim that could have destroyed the fabric of their marriage before he died. The film soon begins to ponder on some intriguing concepts, like whether or not Linda – when faced with the damning news about Jim while he was alive – actually wanted Jim to be dead and – if she had the ability to do so– would she save his life as a result? By the time the third act roles on Linda desperately tries to meet up with her husband at the scene of his “death” in hopes of saving his life…but will she be able to?
PREMONITION has some decent things going for it, like Bullock’s believable performance as a troubled and grieving wife figure that slowly begins to spiral downwards into paranoid denial. Also, the film deals up the tragedy very early on in the story to throw the viewer off (the sudden death of a loved one comes as a shock, and the fact that the film has it early on is noteworthy). The narrative as well – at least for the first hour – is able to generate some legitimate forward momentum. The more Linda seems to be living her days out of order the more we want to know why and how it is occurring. Predictably, the more Linda fails to live one day at a time in sequence, the more delusional she gets and the more deeply concerned her kids and mother grow about her.
However, PREMONITION runs completely out of gas on the strength of its conclusion. This is a typical "PWP" film – or premise without payoff – where the jigsaw-like nature of the time traveling story begins to develop one inconsistency after another, not to mention that the way the film wraps everything up is hopelessly rushed and contrived. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with time travel paradox in a movie (you simply have a hard time avoiding them when you use the device), and PREMONITION does not suffer from the teeth-grating stupidity of one time loophole that THE LAKE HOUSE had. Yet, PREMONITION has a witless scene between Linda and a priest where he offers up his insight on the spiritual significance of her plight and…well…let’s just say that it’s used as a crutch to hold up the rest of the film towards its end. I grew dizzy just postulating the different endings the the film could have had. Few thrillers turn as boneheaded in the end as this one.
PREMONITION is a time travel thriller that could have greatly benefited from not going to any lengths at explaining the nature of its phenomenon. Sometimes, the best films that deal with time travel don’t labor for explanations and instead bravely ask the viewer to just go with it. That ideology could have greatly benefited PREMONITION, which allows itself to implode under the weight of its silly and ill-handled explanation of its premise. The fact that it concerns a wife that lives her week out of order and tries to come to grips with her husband’s death in the middle of it is kind of fascinating. Also, Sandra Bullock develops some terrific, soft-spoken intensity in her lead role. The film’s tone is good, the individual performances are decent, and the film’s set up allows for our quick buy-in; it lures you into its story of mystery and intrigue. Unfortunately, the film concludes everything in such an indecisive and misguided manner that you are left wondering whether or not all the attention and time you invested into it was worth it. In short: it wasn’t. As a result, the film emerges as a honorable failure.