Chilling to the "Bones"

Jan. 18, 2010, 12:02 p.m. | By Anya Gosine | 11 years, 9 months ago

Overwhelming emotions spike this spine-tingling thriller

In "The Lovely Bones," Director Peter Jackson takes Alice Sebold's best-selling 2002 novel, an innovative tale about death, and brings it to life in a poignant piece that combines raw suspense, heart-wrenching emotion and enthralling charisma.

The story is narrated by Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a bright-hearted and happy 14-year-old dealing with typical teenage-girl issues. One day, on her way home from school, she is brutally murdered by George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), a solitary man living in her neighborhood. Susie does not go to heaven; instead, she arrives in the "in-between," a mystical abyss from where she watches as her family reels in the wake of her death. But while her mother Abigail (Rachel Weisz) longs to move on after the police fail to find Susie's killer, her father, Jack (Mark Wahlberg) is determined to avenge her death. Susie must help her father resolve her case before her family completely falls apart and Harvey strikes again.

Tucci makes Harvey a character of impeccable eeriness. Whether meticulously crafting dollhouses or watching children play outside through a crack in his blinds, he emits a disturbing air. Even in his polite facade towards Jack, Abigail and the police, there is an unmistakable layer of menace that gives all the "skeevies." His creepy character is emphasized by sharp cinematography consisting of quick cut-away shots and dark close-ups.

Equal to, if not more exceptional than Tucci's performance are those of Weisz and Wahlberg. Jack and Abigail's development from mild worry when their daughter is late home from school, to frantic desperation is entirely convincing and creates pure empathy with the audience. A tense relationship develops between them as they try to balance mourning for Susie and taking care of their other two children. Later, as Jack becomes obsessed with finding Susie's murderer, his slow degradation of sanity becomes visible. Weisz and Wahlberg's portrayal of parents in grief is perhaps the most compelling element of the film.

A truly stunning part in "The Lovely Bones" is the enchanting world in which Susie roams while she waits to go to heaven. The CGI makes this fantastical land of spectral colors and changing landscapes rather realistic. The seamless transitions from snowy mountains to golden plains through which Susie wanders are aesthetically pleasing. Further captivating is the strong symbolism that appears in this world as events unfold on mortal earth. The visual marvel of Susie's "perfect world" will not disappoint viewers.

However, as in most film adaptations of novels there are inevitable flaws - in this case, character development. Holly (Nikki SooHoo), Susie's friendly companion in the "in-between" is barely established other than a one-dimensional character who gives wisdom and advice to Susie while she worries for her family. While Holly later turns out to be a more significant character related to Susie, we are never given the proper insight that would be appropriate for her role.

Another blemish in the story surfaces with the visit of Susie's spunky grandmother to the grieving family. While the humor she brings with her alcohol-jokes and sassy attitude fits in well with the preceding flow of events, it is the lack of any humor afterward that makes her few jocular scenes seem a disturbance to the overall progression of the story.

Viewers are sure to be racked with a certain degree of fright and powerful emotions thanks to some powerful performances. Still, all audiences will feel a sure sense of uplifting as the characters, Susie, Jack and all, find their way out of the darkness to their respective "bright lights."

"The Lovely Bones" (135 minutes) is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

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