Perfect Sense then. Does it even make perfect sense? An at times bizarre and not altogether successful look at a world in which human beings are gradually losing their senses, stands and falls (and stands again) on the decidedly mixed imparting of its sensory malfunction message. Kind of like science fiction with most of the science and fiction stripped back. No miracle cures, no deadly virus, no world-wide extinction event requiring the specific help of one of our protagonists. More a melancholic reflection on what we take for granted – namely sensory perception – and a gentle chastisement of human kind’s latent standoffish-ness towards our fellow earth dwellers.
Glasgow is the location. Michael (Ewan McGregor) is a chef, Susan (Eva Green) an epidemiologist. He’s also a bit of a womaniser (hinted at) and she’s a somewhat burdened soul with an inner turmoil of some kind. A truck driver is admitted to Susan’s hospital complaining of a losing his sense of smell. We are then informed that similar, if isolated, cases having been reported worldwide within the past 24 hours. Here is a premise you can get behind. Bag loads of potential. McGregor and Green eventually cross paths and become our two souls caught up in this, if you think about it, quite terrible reality.
Except… we never quite grasp the sheer terror of the events unfolding in front of us. The film takes an understated route, a personal portrait of society on the verge of descending into chaos. Nothing wrong with that. But the only time we leave Glasgow is for some ill-advised, “world postcard” montage scenes – the type you’d recognise from Armageddon or any disaster movie directed by Roland Emmerich. Not a constituency this film would imagine itself in. Ultimately, it limits the movie’s effectiveness.
The later scenes of intimacy between Green and McGregor are played to good end with genuine affection, providing an emotional anchor where up until one had been absent. But by this stage, half way though the film’s run-time, the realisation hits that you don’t really care much about humanity already having (mysteriously) lost some of their senses. The final lapse into confusion and fear briefly invites thoughts on what you might actually do if this became a reality. But overall emotional engagement throughout remains distant. Danny Boyle showed us how large-scale, Big Idea horror could be wrought from small budgets – step forward 28 Days Later – and despite the different approach, Perfect Sense is underwhelming and nowhere near as proficient.