Directed by Mennan Yapo
With Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, and Kate NelliganRated PG-13
“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” So goes the opening line to Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel Slaughterhouse Five — and so it also goes for Linda Hanson (Sandra Bullock) in Premonition. On a Thursday, the suburban housewife learns that her husband Jim (Julian McMahon) was killed in a car accident the previous day while driving to a job interview. She’s devastated, and spends the day in a stupor before falling asleep on the couch. The next morning, when she wakes up, it’s not Friday — it’s the previous Monday. Jim is still alive, and Sandra is left to ponder whether her memory of Jim’s death was some terrible dream, or whether she needs to act to change the course of history.
And change it she does. At least, some of it. At least, sort of.
Cinema has long been infatuated with time-travel narratives. And as is the case with most infatuations, little imperfections can easily be ignored — like how these narratives rarely make a lick of sense. It’s one thing to use time-hopping as the basis for escapist fantasy like Back to the Future or Time Bandits or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. We don’t expect obsessive insistence on consistency, because that’s so not what those movies are about. But when you’re dealing with dramas that use the notion of heading to the past as a metaphor for regret and loss, you’d better pay attention and not pretend that causality doesn’t matter. That’s right, Déjà Vu, I’m talking to you.
It’s hard to figure exactly what screenwriter Bill Kelly was thinking as he put Premonition together. Eventually, the narrative settles into a pattern that at first seems uniquely intriguing. Instead of returning completely to the “past” after her first episode, Linda begins bouncing back and forth through the days of that week. The uneventful “Monday” she visits after learning of Jim’s death on Thursday is followed by a journey to the following Saturday — when Jim is still dead, and Linda has no knowledge of what occurred during the intervening Friday. Where will she wake up next, and will what she learns there take her any closer to the ability to prevent Jim’s accident? Or will what she learns make her wonder whether she should prevent Jim’s accident?
But just as Linda’s connection to reality grows tenuous, so does the film’s connection to its own zigzagging timeline. When Linda’s mother (Kate Nelligan) arranges to have her committed to a psychiatric hospital on that post-accident Saturday, we assume it has something to do with the scars that have mysteriously appeared on the face of Linda’s oldest daughter, Bridgette (Courtney Taylor Burness) during that lost Friday — except that the incident that caused the scars didn’t take place during that lost Friday. It takes place during the backtracking Tuesday that follows Linda’s Saturday — are you dizzy yet? — and suddenly there’s no logical reason to assume anyone would consider Linda a danger to herself or to anyone else. It’s all just a stakes-raising gimmick — and a pointedly ridiculous one once events play themselves out.
As Premonition begins to stumble over its own internal reasoning, it also turns Linda into a protagonist who never seems to think seriously about what’s going on. Never once, after the pattern makes itself apparent, does she consider the obvious step of attempting to stay awake all night to see what will happen next. Nor does she make a single attempt not to do the things that have clearly had a negative impact on later days. Bullock plays some of the more emotional scenes effectively, but she’s stuck playing a hopeless character. Once it becomes clear that she’s either too dumb or too shell-shocked to take simple corrective steps, her plight begins to seem hopeless.
Not nearly as hopeless, however, as the film ultimately becomes. It’s true that Premonition is in fairly expansive company when it comes to lunkheaded attempts at temporal twists; only Twelve Monkeys and Primer have ever really demonstrated the intelligence to do it right. But the resolution Kelly settles on fails the causality test so miserably that it’s like some perverse logic test, and the attempt to weave a half-assed sub-plot about lost religious faith into the events feels like deus ex machina desperation. Premonition comes unstuck in time, then finds itself stuck in a loop it’s not smart enough to get out of.