Though I will try to fight it later in this review, the only reasonable response to Premonition is a puzzled eyebrow-furrow followed by a shrug. By any estimation, the film — ostensibly a psychological thriller, though who the hell knows — doesn’t make much sense, either narratively (the story’s twists and turns prove arbitrary) or thematically (the screenplay tosses something out in the final minutes and tries to make it fit). It’s a confounding project: who thought this was suitable for a big-budget Sandra Bullock vehicle?
That sounds like a swipe at the film, but in fact it’s the reason I’m almost — so close! — recommending it. Yes, in the end Premonition slips through our fingers, but by gum, it’s interesting, and one of the oddest and most abstract mainstream releases I’ve seen in a long time. The trailers suggest a taut time travel puzzler, but what director Mennan Yapo gives us is closer to a tone poem: working with just the bare outlines of a story, he and screenwriter Bill Kelly (Blast from the Past — yes, the Brendan Fraser movie) don’t bother much with exposition or explanations, counting on a series of strong images, a sympathetic protagonist, and viewer forbearance to do the work. Again, it doesn’t quite work, but it comes close, and earns a few points for audacity.
In fairness to puzzled audiences the world over, there are a number of places where one could reasonably call shenanigans on the entire affair. Bullock’s Linda Hanson seems to be waking up each morning to find, alternately, that her husband has died in a car accident, and that he is still alive, but though this drives her insane, not until more than halfway through the film does she see fit to inquire what day of the week it is. Plot points simply vanish into thin air, as the screenplay scoffs at the very idea of dealing with temporal paradoxes. By the end, the movie seems to lose track of which days Linda has lived through, and which she has yet to go. The lack of any real resolution suggests that the film (or perhaps God) put her through this to teach her a lesson about love and faith. Seems cruel.
Somehow, though, Premonition telegraphs its narrative unconcern, and kind of makes it okay. I suspected that I might be left hanging, and grooved on Yapo’s unexpectedly intense tone and stark imagery — he knows when to disrupt the film’s otherwise seamless flow with something startling and indelible: a dead bird, cuts on a young girl’s face, the barely-seen tumble of a severed head in the corner of the frame. If nothing else, Premonition skillfully toys with your emotions.
And I quite simply have to give Yapo and Kelly credit for refusing to contrive a conventional explanation for its bizarre goings-on. Had the film wrapped up convincingly, instead of with a weak pseudo-spiritual whimper, I would hail that bit of courage as a stroke of genius. As it stands, the open-ended conclusion is but an intriguing feature of an unsatisfying movie. I cannot recommend Premonition, because you probably expect something more for your money. But I can say that its defiance of convention piqued my interest. I value small blessings.