This one is going to be as much therapy session as movie review. I feel like I have PTSD, and I need to get it all out. I had to stop at the store on the way home and buy some Ben & Jerry’s. Seriously.
Granted, I freak out easily. I always have. But I wasn’t the only one this time. Half the audience was sniffling, trying not to sob openly, and I was staring bleakly at the screen, forgetting to blink, for long enough to make my eyes hurt. It was… depressing, yes, but that’s not quite enough. These days depressing is a pretty overused word, so maybe bleak is better, but I’m still not sure that captures the full, awful scope of this.
I’ll try and stick to the cold, hard facts as much as possible. Nicolas Cage plays John Koestler, an MIT professor whose wife was recently killed in a tragic hotel fire. (Fires are always tragic. I mean, they are tragic, but for some reason that’s usually the adjective used.) His son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury, who played one version of Benjamin in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), has a hearing problem of some sort, wherein the spoken word sometimes sounds jumbled to him. So when he starts hearing odd whispers, they blame it on the hearing aid he wears.
The whispers start when a time capsule, buried fifty years ago, is unearthed at Jacob’s school. The children of 1959 had all drawn pictures of what they felt the future would look like — all, that is, except for Lucinda Embry, the odd girl out, who looks kind of like a young Christina Ricci. Her contribution is a page covered with row after row of seemingly random numbers. She’s played by Lara Robinson, who also plays Lucinda’s granddaughter Abby; and Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later — she apparently makes a habit of disaster movies). The pictures, sealed in envelopes, are passed out to the children of 2009, and Caleb gets Lucinda’s, of course.
While drinking to forget his late wife, John sees the numbers and decides that trying to work out if they mean anything might be good therapy. He hits on the date of the World Trade Center attack (of course) and from there matches up set after set of numbers as dates and numbers of dead. The numbers in between, that he can’t match up, he ignores. Really, though, even I guessed what they were, so he definitely should have known.

This fails to capture the enormity of a crashed jet, but it was the best I could find.

It was pretty silly of Lucinda to have let them bury that list, though, because by the time anyone sees it, all but three of the dates have slipped by. John discovers that one of them matches the fire that killed his wife, which makes him extra determined to try and stop the remaining disasters. It’s really hard to stop disasters, though. He almost gets himself killed I don’t know how many times, and almost arrested once or twice, but he’s stubborn and just keeps trying. I mean, that’s a natural thing to do, of course, but it’s seriously scary, too. I mean, I’ve seen lots and lots of movies where things get blown up and people die horribly. But this movie still freaked me out. I’m not even sure exactly what it was, but something about the sight of those particular disasters just made me terribly unsettled. I drove home very, very carefully.
So on that level, as something meant to make you think about the fragility of life and whether there’s any such thing as fate or if life is simply random, it’s really a very good movie. Unfortunately, they don’t stop there. The movie goes on and on, and gets sillier and sillier, until by the final scene, I was left wondering if the projectionist had somehow managed to switch to a different movie. Except it had the same actors in it, so that didn’t work too well as an explanation.
The point is, the first hour and a half? A good film. The last half hour? Shades of Next. It just… faded away into bizarreness, and I could only watch helplessly.
So averaging it out…. say about four for the first part, and one and a half for the last… two and three-quarters sounds about right, actually, though it’s a shame that all the promise of the start went to waste. For one thing, no one has learned from the terrible mistake of Signs, and they just keep on showing more of the spooky aliens than they should, because I don’t care how sophisticated CGI gets, the imagination is still better because it doesn’t have a budget. Unfortunately, simply not watching the last thirty minutes or so isn’t practical, so you just have to put up with the one and a half idol part. I recommend Ben & Jerry’s ONE Cheesecake Brownie to help you cope with the resulting depression.