“I wake up and he’s dead. I wake up… and he’s alive.” If you’ve seen or even heard the trailer for Premonition, you might have noticed that Sandy Bullock’s character, Linda, sounds a little peeved on that last word. It’s a small thing, but offers brief hope that the movie may not be entirely predictable. The key word here is “brief.”
The “he” is Linda’s husband Jim (Julian McMahon). His primary function appears to be as a piece of Linda’s puzzle. He makes his first appearance inside her pretty little flashback, as he brings her to the front door of the big white house he’s bought her, complete with big red bow on the front door. The flashback is grainy, the light washed out, indicating that it’s a “home-movie” sort of memory, except no one would have been filming and the couple appears as old then as they do now. “I hate surprises,” she announces as he surprises her.
With a couple of church bell dongs, the flashback ends and Linda’s maybe-current life begins. Lying prettily in a big bed inside that big white house, she’s awakened by her two lovely daughters, Bridgette (Courtney Taylor Burness) and Megan (Shyann McClure), all big eyes, giggles, and cuteness, wondering when daddy will be home. Oh yeah, Linda’s married to Jim, whose awayness in this scene suggests nothing really, except that he will be away for most of the movie, either about to come home or about to leave and die. It appears that Linda’s apprehension concerning the surprise has been borne out — and will be borne out — again and again.
Linda’s routine looks pretty much like updated Donna Reed: she takes the girls, with pink lunch sacks, to school in her SUV, jogs and showers, dusts shelves, puts clothes in the washing machine, hangs sheets in an apparently gigantic back yard. She has a best friend, Annie (Nia Long), who might have a job and is looking for a good man, and who mostly appears on the other end of a phone call, and she has an answering machine where Jim leaves a cryptic message about really meaning “what I said in front of the girls the other night.” (“The other night” reminds you that Linda’s struggling with temporal muddles.) She smokes a cigarette on her back porch, suggesting that her perfect life is, perhaps, not so perfect.
JULIAN McMAHON as Jim and SANDRA BULLOCK as Linda
AMBER VALLETTA as Claire
The news that Jim has been killed in a car accident — delivered by a sheriff standing in that same doorway that used to have the big red bow on it — is odd, as is the fact that she’s not instructed to identify a body or deal with doctors, cops or papers. But these events, as well as a not very helpful visit from Linda’s ever-disapproving mom Joanne (Kate Nelligan) and a set of inconsistent interactions with a lithium-prescribing shrink played by Peter Stormare (as soon as he shows up, you know Linda’s in much deeper trouble than she knows), are supposed to be signs of Linda’s disorder. “Obviously,” the doctor says, “You’re dealing with some inconsistencies.”
It’s a tedious turn, the suggestion that the woman in trouble is “crazy.” Linda wakes on a next morning — or what appears to be a next morning — to find that Jim is alive and grumpy, drinking coffee in the kitchen, about to leave for work. Her look of horror when she discovers him, underscored by a slow-moving camera that frames him as a very unwelcome surprise, suggests that something’s amiss in the marriage; dismissing his vague concern with an even more vague “I just had the strangest…”, Linda heads off into her day, which soon turns into her week, of fractured time and psychic disarray. Each morning she wakes up, it’s a different day of the week, before or after the car accident that changes everything.
(L to R) SHYANNE MCCLURE as Megan, COURTNEY TAYLOR BURNESS as Bridgette, and SANDRA BULLOCK as Linda
The question is, what exactly has been changed? As a map of and commentary on the boredom of Linda’s suburban existence, her mostly unhappy disorientation is actually pretty coherent: Jim’s emotional absence appears to be linked to a pretty coworker, Claire (Amber Valetta), though it’s unclear when she matters or how (she is a conventional marker for the bad husband, however, as Linda’s imprecise seething at her indicates).
It’s unfortunate in more way than one that Premonition is Bullock’s second time-fuck film in a row, even if this one is slightly more adventurous than The Lake House. As long as it trots along behind Linda’s rather mundane efforts to find order and meaning in this muck, Premonition is an aptly untidy investigation of housewifey malaise and potential revenge (“If I let Jim die,” she asks Joanne, “is that the same as killing him?”). When it attempts to locate that order and meaning, however, the movie just turns silly. Linda writes down events on a week’s calendar, lands in a psych ward, confronts Claire, all conventional moves.
As the plot winds down, it becomes increasingly unimportant that she salvage the relationship with Jim. The movie looks most desperate when it sends Linda to see a priest (Jude Ciccolella) who happens to have a book tabbed with post-its, detailing “unexplained phenomena” that may or may not be premonitions, usually occurring when people have lost “faith.” Whether or not his banal reminder that “nature abhors a vacuum” means Linda needs to get religion or abandon it completely remains unclear. What is plain, from that initial “I deliver you into the suburbs” scene, is that the marriage is dreary, whether you measure this by her grim, repeatedly close-upped face or his resolute noncommunication. Linda hates surprises, but Premonition might have benefited from one or two.