Recently, Jackson was quoted as admitting, "I think we've dropped the ball a little bit on stories for the sake of the amazing toys that we've played with." Guilty as stated in this latest flick which is rich with dazzling "toys," but poor on attention given to script.
In Alice Sebold's novel the narrative is told by the main character; the film is narrated, as well, by Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) whose voice over says almost matter-of-factly, "I was 14 years old when I was murdered." From there we back up to watch her grow into a sweet, lively teenager about to experience puppy love; instead, she is lured by a neighbor (Stanley Tucci) into an underground fun room for kids (the guy really goes out of his way to set up his traps) and there she is raped, then killed. No details of the brutal acts are graphically shown, but suggestions - bloody clothing, etc. - make it frightening enough.
Suspicions are aroused, first by Susie's crazed, obsessive father (Mark Wahlberg), then, later by Susie's younger sister (who seems a ripe victim for the next crime). Mother (Rachel Weisz) can't handle her husband's near-insane actions, leaves, to be replaced by her ill-equipped mother (Susan Sarandon), who moves in, only to make matters worse.
Meanwhile we find that Susie now lives in a kind of ever-changing limbo, studded with symbols from her past, while she flows in moods from frenzy to fear to bliss to anxiety. Nor is she alone in this limbo, since our nemesis is a compulsive serial killer, having done in at least half a dozen other little girls - all waiting in that ebullient limbo for things to become resolved before they can fly to Eden.
The film is a heaping mess. Some novels should never be tampered with, at least not by an overly ambitious director anxious to experiment regardless the cost, as he settles for a derivative script, created by at least three writers (one of whom is Jackson himself) whose aim, obviously, is to allow the director his opportunity to make computer hay while the commercial sun shines.
To compensate for a script that must have chilled the novelist's veins, Jackson floods the screen with elaborate electronic visuals. The world inhabited by Susie after her death runs the gamut from winter beauty to pink vistas, to watery graves, lighthouses, a sink hole and a gazebo - when she's not rushing in & out of the real world in a bluish fog.
Outside of Susie, little definition is made of the people involved. They are no more than ornaments on the main story's tree.
Some things that can be explained away in print do not work on the screen. A large safe, too heavy to be carried by two men is loaded into the killer's car by himself with ease; "clues" to the suspected killer make no logical sense; Susie's sister breaks into the suspect's home and heads almost immediately to a secret floor board in the bedroom to discover a clue; and people's personalities change at the drop of a whim.
One can praise Jackson for taking a courageous experimental leap, yet fault him for what he accomplished - all so horribly wrong, so disparate of the novel's intent. Even the whimsical tune over final credits is farcically wrong. What a misguided waste of talent. (Grade: C-)