It's amazing how quickly life goes from perfect to perfectly awful -- even horrifying. Linda Hanson (a spellbinding Sandra Bullock) is the 21st century everywoman: beautiful, fit, (she jogs, between premonitions), with a handsome husband, Jim (Julian McMahon, of "Nip/Tuck"), a charming provider who just happens to be a romantic at heart; and two well-behaved, beautiful daughters (Shyann McClure, Courtney Taylor Burness). Their family life is bliss beyond belief. Director Mennan Yapo spares no dramatic angle or musical enhancement to paint a rosy picture of their happy, homey atmosphere, which almost immediately rings too good to be true.
Linda's premonition -- which unfolds over a series of flashbacks -- is all too clear: Jim is killed in a tractor-trailer collision; his death is "instantaneous." The resulting aftermath and its effects on the family haunt her every waking moment and lead her to believe the premonition is real. Desperate and powerless, Linda is nonetheless convinced she can prevent the entire episode. As her younger daughter innocently asks: If a man dies on the highway and no one is there, "then how do you know he died?"
Is it real, or is it memory? Screenwriter Bill Kelly keeps us constantly on edge and, while slowly filling in the harrowing details, never lets go.
When Linda reveals what she has seen to her husband, he whispers, "It was a dream. Everything's going to be fine."
Or is it?
The incredible suspense generated by this simple premise is palpable and relentless.
Although others suggest, "Maybe it was supposed to happen," Linda understandably starts to doubt herself, her judgment and her sanity. Dazed visions of involuntary commitment, injections and restraints compound her ongoing nightmares. She becomes increasingly suspicious of everyone and wonders, "If I let Jim die, is that the same thing as killing him?"
Adding to the marvelous aura of mystery, Jim reveals his own disturbing secrets, raising the question: Just precisely who had the frightening premonition and whom should we believe?
Coolly detached, Linda's mother (a compelling Kate Nelligan) manages to appear at once distant, yet warm and grandmotherly. By contrast, Linda's cheery source of escape and comfort is her best friend, Annie, deftly played with just the right touch of sympathy and solace by the delightful Nia Long.
Although "Premonition" blurs the fine line between dreams and nightmares, coincidence and crazy, the underlying message is unmistakable: Like crime and punishment, actions come with consequences. Sin demands penance -- if not the ultimate punishment.
As the mystery deepens, the trite turns and unexplained elements multiply: wine, unfamiliar prescriptions, attractive strangers lurking behind trees.
For his first major feature, director Yapo pushes the limits of spooky along a cliche-worn path, openly and shamelessly reminiscent of Hitchcock: creaky old houses, ferocious storms, blinding rain, lightning, a full moon, even dead birds.
And like Hitchcock classics, this story too bears a lesson: A lesson in how to methodically, slowly drive a loved one insane.