Cults collide as Peter Jackson tackles Alice Sebold's bestselling New Age gothic, the story of a rape-murder-dismemberment and its aftermath, narrated by its 14-year-old victim from heaven. The movie, starring Saoirse Ronan as the teenage Susie, is horrific yet cloying, sometimes poignant and often ridiculous. Published in the aftermath of 9/11, The Lovely Bones was widely appreciated as a lyrical tale of grief and reconciliation, but it is also a malign fable of adolescent coming-of-age. Walking on air in anticipation of her first date, Susie is enticed down the rabbit hole that her serial-killing neighbor (Stanley Tucci, supremely creepy) has prepared as her death chamber. She leaves this world horrendously despoiled yet essentially innocent. Punishing sexual curiosity is not a foreign notion for Jackson, who broke into movies making gross-out horror flicks. Still, he has the tact to omit the gruesome details of Susie's murder. Unfortunately, he shows no such discretion in literalizing the novel's vague metaphysics. Here, all is subservient to the digital splendors of Susie's heavenly abode—a constantly mutating realm of spacious skies, purple mountains, and undulating amber waves of grain, not to mention crystal beaches, foggy forests, and the peripatetic cosmic gazebo from which she observes her family and murderer's doings. Jackson's adaptation is a misguided tribute to the magic of the movies. But there is something to be said for representing the actual world.
Bereaved parent Mark Wahlberg (left) with suspect-next-door Tucci.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Jan. 15. Rated PG-13. 135 minutes.