Widowed astrophysicist John Koestler (Cage) decodes a page of numbers which predict a host of disasters, some of which have yet to take place. As John tries to avert the calamities, he realises the last numbers foretell a cataclysm.
Given that M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t been able to get away with making M. Night Shyamalan films without receiving a thorough kicking lately, it’s a mystery why Alex Proyas would want to make one. Knowing is a collage of themes from the MNS oeuvre: a bereaved family man grappling with loss of faith after personal tragedy who comes across a miraculous, but also terrifying phenomenon... a quietly-spoken, damaged little boy who can see and hear more than grown-ups and is the focus of supernatural activity… set-piece disasters which wipe out hordes of extras just to give the main character something to be more angsty about… and that low-key, gloomy, whispery urgency that covers for rising hysteria.
Knowing also has the misfortune to follow The Number 23 in the numerology horror stakes, though searching for meaning in random or designed codes also has a Dan Brownish tinge. Given that it’s a) familiar, and b) silly, the film almost sells its first act as a creepy little girl in 1959 scribbles her prophetic numbers when asked to draw a picture of the future while the rest of her class crayon spacemen and robots. Then, in ‘the present day’, Professor Koestler’s son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) brings the numbers home so Dad can idly make the connections with a handy internet search. It deploys a lot of generic baggage, but never really settles whether it’s an apocalyptic science-fiction film or a religious horror movie. The Men in Black who stalk Caleb to give him ominous pebbles and visions of burning wildlife could be demons, aliens, angels or thin Goth government dudes.
The set-piece disasters turn out to be beside the point, but allow for spectacle — though over-reliance on CG fire gives even things which are supposed to be happening (a plane crash, a subway disaster) an unreal sheen like Caleb’s bad dream visions. Cage’s character has so many props to indicate estrangement from the world — dilapidated house, major drink habit, overprotective parent neurosis, a minister father he won’t talk to — that his moping becomes comical, while the dashing-about to avert doom has unfortunate Wicker Man overtones. Rose Byrne, cast as the daughter of the original visionary, clearly has an urge to sign up for solar crisis or general end-of-the-world movies, but gets less to do here than in Sunshine or... 28 Weeks Later.
Youre better off not knowing.