Friday, March 27, 2009

KNOWING - A compelling mix of sci-fi and horror

Alex Proyas (I, ROBOT, DARK CITY, THE CROW) has created a beautifully crafted, intelligent, provocative movie that uses the tropes of gothic horror as well as conventional set-piece action flicks to create as compelling a sci-fi flick as I've seen in a while. If the denouement annoyed me (in the same way that the series finale of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica annoyed me) that's not to take away from the ambition of the picture.

The movie has been marketed as a conventional sci-fi flick and vehicle for Nic Cage. Cage plays a MIT scientist, atheist and widower called John whose son, Caleb, is given a mysterious sheet of paper covered in numbers when his elementary school digs up a time capsule. Jon believes that the numbers on the paper show the date, co-ordinates and fatalities of every major world disaster and becomes obsessed with the implication that he knows the date and time of the next three disasters. As an atheist, he has to grapple with the fact that he has seemingly been handed a paper full of prophecies - and that "knowing" cannot prevent them from being lived out. Such is the sci-fi back-bone of this film.

On top of that, Alex Proyas gives us a fantastically impressive disaster movie, as John is drawn to the sites where disaster is prophesied. What distinguishes this film from, say, WAR OF THE WORLDS, is that Proyas dares to really take us into the disasters. Rather than seeing an anonymous plane crash and fireball in the distance, he shows us people being consumed by fire and the traumatic impact that that has on John. Proyas also dares to use the iconography of 9-11, including survivors stumbling through wreckage covered in ash. This adds to the emotional weight and portent of the movie, but not in a sensationalist way. Rather it speaks directly to our new post 9-11 understanding of disaster.

The movie also works as a gothic horror. John and Caleb live in a classic rambling, isolated house on a hill. As is typical in horror, Caleb is a prescient, spooky child, who starts hearing the same whispers of prophesy that the little girl heard fifty years before and wrote down on that fateful piece of paper. He has nightmares and visions that come straight out of William Blake, and the denouement is a quite brilliant combination of sci-fi and horror tropes.

KNOWING is the best film Alex Proyas has made since DARK CITY - the cult classic. It didn't carry me right through to the final scene, but I can appreciate the internal logic and bravado of its conception. I also think Nic Cage should get a lot of credit for playing a character that isn't a two-dimensional action hero and showing us what we knew from early films like MOONSTRUCK - that when he chooses to take on more complex material he really can act.

KNOWING is on release in Kazakhstan, Russia, the US, the UK, Australia, Greece, Malaysia and Iceland. It goes on release next week in Belgium, France, Argentina and Estonia. It opens on April 10th in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, Brazil and Turkey. It opens on April 16th in Hong Kong, on April 24th in Portugal, Denmark and Norway and on April 30th in South Korea. It opens on May 21st in New Zealand and on July 30th in the Czech Republic.

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