Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's best-selling novel hovers just this side of Ghost Whisperer kitsch but remains compulsively watchable thanks to its smart ensemble cast, 1970s-era production design, psychedelic visual effects, and the director's talent for escalating tension with a minimum of gore. Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) plays a radiant 14-year-old who is murdered by her reclusive neighbor (a nearly unrecognizable Stanley Tucci). In the afterlife she tries to reach closure as she watches her father (Mark Wahlberg), mother (Rachel Weisz), flamboyant grandmother (Susan Sarandon, a pistol), and younger siblings seek their own. Credit sound designers Dave Whitehead and Christopher Boyes for a heart-stopping crucial passage, a cat-and-mouse sequence where a rustling page wields the might of a thunderclap. PG-13, 135 min.
Director: Peter Jackson
Producer: Carolynne Cunningham, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Aimee Peyronnet, Steven Spielberg, Tessa Ross, Ken Kamins and James Wilson
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, Saoirse Ronan, Rose McIver, Christian Ashdale and Reece Ritchie