Overview: An uncovered time capsule leads a man and his young daughter to discover a countdown that suggests the end of the world. Escape Artists/Summit Entertainment; 2009’ Rated R; 121 Minutes
The Schizophrenic Elephant in the Room: Alright, yeah, we get it, you snickering meme-hungry internet jokesters. When you put his collected work together, Nicolas Cage comes across as very, very weird and not very self-aware. Is his inexplicably frenetic energy on display on this movie? You betcha. Dude attacks a tree with a baseball. And I bet you’re not surprised! But that sort of energy can come across as honest and comfortable if framed correctly (Raising Arizona, Waking the Dead). What more excusable instant to be a spazz than the end of the world? This is one of those instances where Nicolas Cage can be his untamed self and have it render successful results.
What It Gets Right: The script takes great care to hold to a plausible and realistic extinction scenario, one that already hits uncomfortably against the nerves of our social consciousness. Further, the arrangement of large scale catastrophe in this movie is unsettlingly accurate. Don’t get me wrong, this is pure speculation, but I think this is probably what Armageddon looks and feels like. From the explosive and unsettling plane crash scene to the quiet discontent between catastrophes, this movie hits all the right apocalyptic notes. And when society unravels, the movie shows us a nightmarish vision of its downfall. The inclusion of the haunting whispered voices in the first act adds elements of traditional horror and the revelation of what E.E. stands for establishes a moment that is immediate and chilling.
What It Gets Wrong: When the angels/aliens step out of the bushes, we expect them to erupt into choreography and song. With their chiseled jawlines and bleached hair, they look more boy-band than biblical. Predictably, Cage struggles with keeping his emotions in check and Rose Byrne, once introduced, either struggles similarly or in his shadow as neither lead really inspires much of a personal connection with the audience. Some viewers may take offense or issue with the mishmash of the theological and the extraterrestrial and with the seemingly racist and discriminatory survivor selection patterns in the film’s climax. Others might find the free-will vs. determinism element of the storyline a bit sophomoric.
Overall: Knowing plays freely and bravely in the space between B-horror and A-level disaster film, hiding doses of mature, if heavy, thematic elements within the indulgent main course.