A fictional drama that uses a Columbine-like high school massacre as a plot device had better have solid justification for engaging our grief and horror. The Life Before Her Eyes doesn’t earn that indulgence, but that doesn’t stop director Vadim Perelman (House of Sand and Fog) from loading his relentlessly sensualized adaptation of Laura Kasischke’s flash-forward and-back novel with spangled images of flowers and raindrops, silky teen flesh and handsome household objects, between scenes of campus mayhem. In a familiar role for her, Evan Rachel Wood plays Diana, a rebellious teen who, with her more modest, saintly best friend (Eva Amurri), faces life and death at the end of a rampaging student’s gun barrel one sunny school day. Fifteen years after the event and morphed into an anesthetized-looking Uma Thurman, Diana is a wife and mother, mourning the past and starting to break down in the present.
Even without an ending that deposits the movie in a surreal territory of sand and fog all its own, the story wanders agitatedly from issues of religious faith to those of abortion, from the little agonies of peer pressure to the big pains of making a marriage work. All the while, Perelman pays such cooing attention to surfaces that our response to violence carries no more importance than our response to the delicate jewelry around the adult Diana’s neck. D+