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Shiver-inducing ‘Premonition’ is hard to shake

Though the ending feels contrived, the rest of the film is scary and smart. By John Hartl

At its best, the new Sandra Bullock thriller, “Premonition,” plays like the kind of nightmare you can’t shake. The details are so convincing, the alternative reality it presents seems so natural and carefully thought through, that it’s hard to wake up to the fact that it’s not happening at all.

At its worst, the movie plays like “Final Destination” aimed at grownups; the ending is especially contrived. But at least it’s largely free of the mind-boggling nonsense of “The Lake House,” Bullock’s last attempt to transcend the mundane with time-travel puzzles.

Directed by Mennan Yapo, who made the 2004 German hitman thriller, “Lautlos” (“Soundless”), “Premonition” begins with Bullock’s suburban wife and mother, Linda, torn between two quite different worlds that occasionally overlap.

In Linda’s nightmare existence, her husband Jim (Julian McMahon) dies instantly in a traffic accident. She’s accused of mutilating one of her children, her mother (Kate Nelligan) turns up to take care of her, and Linda throws a tantrum at Jim’s funeral while insisting that his coffin be opened.

In her less traumatic existence, Jim is quite alive, the child’s wounds are the result of running through a glass door, and almost everything’s fine on the surface. Still, Linda senses that her marriage is in trouble, and she suspects Jim of having an affair with an overly friendly office worker.

Bullock makes this anxious character both sympathetic and irritating: a victim who understandably becomes something of a nag. Her insistence that “we’re running out of time” makes sense to her, but her sudden awareness of her family’s mortality can be off-putting in large doses.

Linda doesn’t just have a nightmare and then wake from it. She bounces back and forth between the two worlds. When she wakes up each morning, she doesn’t know if Jim will be dead or alive, so she maps out the good days and the bad days and tries to establish a pattern and a way of dealing with it.

In the end, she may go too far in trying to solve something that should be left alone. The script by Bill Kelly, who wrote Brendan Fraser’s charming 1999 bomb-shelter comedy, “Blast From the Past,” has a consistently fatalistic tone that suggests that nothing Linda does can ever make things right again. And she’s pretty much alone in her struggle.

None of the other characters offer much comfort, including her mother and her husband. Nelligan and McMahon appear to have been directed to seem emotionally remote. Mom’s abrasive even when she’s trying to do the right thing, while Jim seems distant even when he’s professing love for Linda and their children.

“Everything’s going to be fine” has rarely sounded less reassuring.

“Premonition” does suggest the logic of a dream, so it can always fall back on a convenient cop-out: it doesn’t necessarily have to add up. It’s enough that certain moments are shivery and spooky enough to carry it for most of its 97 minutes.