The Life Before Her Eyes is about Diana (Uma Thurman), the adult survivor of a school shooting. When the film opens, it is the 15th anniversary of the killing spree, and a memorial is to be held for the survivors. Diana is an art teacher, the wife of a college professor, and the mother of a young, school-age child. Unstable and fearful at the outset, she begins to unravel completely as the day unfolds and her memories transport her back to the weeks leading up to the carnage. Mostly, Diana recalls her friendship with Maureen (Eva Amurri), but also her sexual awakening, her first affair, and her subsequent abortion.

Very much like Vadim Perelman’s first film, House of Sand and Fog, this one is atmospheric, and it has all the earmarks of a thriller. When Diana begins to remember, though, it shifts to flashback, to the girls’ friendship, and becomes a feigned chick flick. At first, the ups and downs of the teenage relationship are a refreshing relief from Diana’s troubled present, but the movie spends too much time there, and the past does not adequately explain Diana’s psychological condition. That’s because Perelman has a hidden agenda, and until it becomes apparent, The Life Before Her Eyes is a pointless witnessing of Diana’s nervous breakdown—and the agenda is impossible to discuss without a spoiler.

From the flashbacks, we learn that the school shooter caught Diana and Maureen—the latter a born-again Christian—alone in the bathroom, and he told the girls one of them would die while the other would be allowed to survive. For three-quarters of the film, we’re led to believe that Diana feels guilty for begging the boy not to kill her. That explanation for Diana’s guilt turns out to be a ruse, which is unforgivable, because it serves to involve the audience in the character so that Perelman can realize his true purpose, which is moralizing. The only conclusion the audience can arrive at to explain Diana’s suffering is long-repressed guilt over her abortion, which Perelman finally gets to when he has her imagine that she is wrapped in a bloodstained sheet. The “life before her eyes,” Diana’s life with her adulterous husband and her daughter cum child-torturer—the brat plays on her fears—is apparently punishment for past sins.

It is unfair to judge the film’s actors because the characters are born of a thesis; they exist solely to express the filmmakers’ evangelical purpose. Only Amurri (The Education of Charlie Banks) is allowed a performance, and that’s because she represents the religious ideas which fuel The Life Before Her Eyes. One only wonders whether distributor Magnolia Pictures and Perelman’s cast and crew grasp the film’s undisguised misogyny.