As two characters stroll down a wooded path, one looks up and says, “I love how the light comes through the trees.” The camera pans up to offer a shot of tree branches as the sunlight peeks through. It’s a lovely shot, but what does it mean? The same character, later in the film, again comments on the sun, this time saying, “The sun is incandescent today.” Now I understand you can make an argument declaring the sun to be incandescent is grammatically correct, but at this point I think the attempt to capture nature as if we’re in a Terrence Malick film and using words that may seem incandescent where a word like “brilliant” would suffice gets to the heart of what Safe Haven actually is… It’s a batshit crazy genre mashup that mixes every sap-heavy Nicholas Sparks adaptation with bad horror movies and Lifetime thrillers.
Seriously, this film is nuts!
After watching Safe Haven I found myself trying to figure out just how exactly Nicholas Sparks comes up with his stories. I’m convinced this particular story was hatched while he watched a horror movie and thought to himself, “Now how can I wedge a single father who lost his wife to cancer and a mysterious girl to the mix?” Well, kudos Nick, job… done.
Sparks is the master at cloying love stories built on tragedy. That’s easy. But what he’s done here is so aggressively stupid I’m amazed anyone would ever consider adapting it for the screen, let alone pick up another copy of one of his books. Yet, Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens dare tread such waters with director Lasse HallstrÃ¶m (Casanova) as their captain and the likes of Josh Duhammel and Julianne Hough as first mates. This is a mission from which none of them should ever return and one that will certainly have them managing a dinghy before they’re ever given a ship of any substance ever again, but I guess as long as the check doesn’t bounce they got what they signed up for.
Safe Haven begins with an intense scene as a girl (Hough) runs, hands bloodied, from her home into that of a neighbor. Shortly thereafter we see the same girl — hair shorter and died blonde — catching a bus out of town with a police officer hot on her tail. She gets away, but what has she done?
The bus, headed for Atlanta, stops off at the small seaside community of Southport, North Carolina and this is where our young lady decides to make her home. She quickly settles in, gets a job, buys a house, makes friends with the local convenience store clerk (Duhammel) and his children.
Life in Southport is all roses, but we’re consistently reminded of the determined police officer back home who really seems to be skirting the law to solve whatever crime was committed and harassing the neighbors at every opportunity.
As things play out, this story goes in directions you won’t necessarily expect, but at the same time won’t surprise you. Any observant viewer should be asking several questions as the story carries on and by the time all is revealed you will certainly be shrugging your shoulders and laughing, but shock won’t be one of your reactions. After all, (and slight spoiler) at one point I wondered (and even wrote down in my notes) if one of the characters was a wood nymph only to find out I wasn’t too far off.
The performances are all over the board with Duhammel playing the same character he’s played in virtually every movie he’s ever been in and Hough (in a role that was almost played by Keira Knightley before she bailed) doing the best Joey Lauren Adams impression she can and failing miserably. The cop I mentioned, played by David Lyons, is laugh-out-loud hilarious in his soap opera antics, but I don’t think any of this comes as a surprise to anyone.
I have yet to see a film based on a Nicholas Sparks novel that I would consider remotely passable, if not entirely undesirable. It’s sort of his “thing” and yet he has legions of fans that read his every word and the films, for the most part, do quite well at the box-office and so studios continue to adapt them with actors whose careers demand a paycheck more than quality screenwriting.
Let it be said, Safe Haven is not a good movie. However, if someone would simply stop making these movies so deadly serious you could have one hell of a parody on your hands. Make the characters a little more self-aware and help them realize the insanity going on around them.
While I would easily say Safe Haven met my expectations in terms of quality, I certainly have to hand it to them for going in directions that weren’t initially obvious. It’s come to a point with these films that cloying is no longer enough. If you’re going to burn the whole thing down, do it in ways people will be least likely to expect and Hallstrom, like any respectable captain, goes down with his ship, but I’m not sure he was too kind in taking his crew down with him.