It’s not much of a surprise that a Peter Jackson film is beautifully-filmed. Neither does it come as much of a shock to find that its one flaw is that it drags a bit in places – so eager to preserve its dreamy stillness and occasionally unbearable tension – but like most of Peter Jackson’s work, it has much to recommend it.
The Lovely Bones is an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, featuring Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Hanna) as a 14 year-old girl murdered by a near-unrecogniseable Stanley Tucci (both performances were Oscar-nominated). As Susie waits in the hinterland between death and the afterlife, she watches as her parents Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg struggle to come to terms with their loss.
Such melancholy subject matter ought to make for a very depressing film, but Jackson distracts us by spending a lot of time in The In-Between, where Susie waits while she watches her family. As with Heavenly Creatures (and, of course, Lord of the Rings), Jackson portrays the ethereal in a way that the audience can accept: dreamlike enough to be “magical”, but not – as he puts it – “hokey”. Susan Sarandon provides a sort of comic relief as the eccentric grandmother who comes to stay, and Brian Eno’s score hits the right notes.
The light and shade in the script is presented in the form of Susie’s father and sister’s attempt to track down her killer. Both come to suspect creepy neighbour Tucci, and soon his eye is fixed on sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) as his next potential victim. The back-and-forth between him stalking her and her stalking him makes for nailbiting viewing, with the audience feeling as helpless as Susie in her spirit-form.
Despite numerous accolades, the film received only average reviews and barely made a profit, which is a shame. Yes, just like pretty much everything Jackson does, it does drag on a bit, but it’s not a bad film at all. Him Indoors called it a film about “a girl who spends the afterlife in a prog rock album cover”, but it manages to be just haunting enough without being an unwelcome spectre.