The book was narrated from the grave by Susie Salmon (played by Saoirse Ronan in the film), a 14-year-old girl who is raped and murdered near her home. From a vantage point between heaven and earth, Susie follows her parents (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz), her sister (Rose McIver) and her killer, Mr Harvey (Stanley Tucci), as she – and they – struggle to accept her fate. Not that we see anyone raped or murdered in this $100 million, 12A version: Jackson fatally softens the edges of the tragedy and its fallout.
The real let-down is the film’s reliance on overblown effects to represent Susie’s limbo. Coming across as if Dali was commissioned to paint Middle Earth for the New Zealand tourist board, the CGI scenes sideline the cast in favour of the magic of the animator’s hard drive. And it doesn’t help that a gin-swigging Susan Sarandon plays Susie’s grandmother for comic effect just when you feel the film could do with some weight. And who’s telling this story? It should be Susie, and at points she narrates. But there’s no consistency.
Is she a ghost? A narrator? A heroine? A victim? Her chocolate-box world suggests it’s a 14-year-old’s view of life. Yet there are entire sections when we forget Susie’s all-seeing eye and don’t know whether we’re in a drama, a thriller or a horror.
Watch this confused, unhappy film and weep a little for Lynne Ramsay (‘Ratcatcher’), the British director who was first commissioned to write and direct it before it was swept away from her by higher powers.