The Sparks model is back, but with a twist!
Synopsis: A young woman with a mysterious past lands in Southport, North Carolina where her bond with a widower forces her to confront the dark secret that haunts her. (IMDB)
Starring: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel and Cobie Smulders
Writers: Dana Stevens and Gage Lansky
Director: Lasse Hallström
Rating: PG (United States)
Running Time: 115mins
Safe Haven follows the story of a mysterious young woman (Hough) moves to a small North Carolina town. She’s hesitant to join in on the tight knight community raising questions about her past. Eventually, she gets a job and becomes close with her widowed neighbour Alex (Duhamel) and Claire Jo (Smulders). Things start to become complicated when her past comes back to haunt her.
Right away, what Safe Haven has going for it is that it isn’t a carbon copy of the Sparks films that came before it. It adds a thriller element to the typical Sparks romantic dramas which helps bring a new tone and atmosphere. The same tropes and Spark-isms are present, but they are complemented now by a dark and twisty narrative. This in theory should have created a romance film that attracted a much bigger audience.
The film does have a bit more going for it as the cinematography delivers standard level Sparks settings. This idyllic romantic vibe is further enhanced by Duhamel’s performance. He is reserved enough to feel like the heartbroken widow, but the same can’t be said for his co-star. Hough can be a formidable dancer, but here her performance is rather dull. She brings no real emotions to a character struggling with an abusive past. This shows how much the story downplays the serious themes it could have tackled. Instead, it results in a formulaic, by-the-books tale of escaping a scarred past.
The thriller narrative is executed poorly as any tension built is quickly squabbled away through nonsensical dialogue. Equally, the romantic elements can be a guilty pleasure, but the lack of personality makes it hard to truly care. David Lyons, as Tierney, delivers a pretty menacing antagonist, but his story feels disconnected from the beach town romance. The constant back-and-forth gives an inconsistent tone to the story accented by a truly terrible ending. The climax of this film delivers the most unexpected, unrealistic and ridiculous twist in a romantic drama imaginable. It takes everything that happened before it and ruins what positives may have been found in this story.
Overall, Safe Haven is a picturesque romantic thriller that tries to infuse something new into the typical Sparks model. While the premise had potential, the cast is charming and the beautiful cinematography again creates a warm setting, the lack of tense atmosphere, dull dialogue and terrible climax make for a brutally boring visit to this beach-side town. Fans of Sparks’ films will even find this one a bit rough to watch.
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