Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 03:02
Nicholas Sparks’ films seem to follow a basic romance feature format-a stunning couple, a quaint North Carolina town and extenuating circumstances keeping the couple from being together. While “Safe Haven” fits this mold, it also offers a suspenseful, mysterious storyline that keeps viewers guessing for the majority of the film.
The film begins with intensity, as Katie (Julianne Hough) is showed cutting off her long, brown locks for a short, blonde bob and disappearing into the night on a bus to Atlanta, as a shady character follows her. The bus makes a pit stop in Southport, N.C., where Katie is comforted by the tranquility of the town. Upon her arrival, she meets one of the locals, Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower with two vivacious children. It is revealed that Katie is a victim of domestic abuse and she often has graphic flashbacks to the night she escaped her husband’s violent attacks. Katie is fearful of letting anyone get too close to her. She therefore denies Alex’s friendship at first, but the turning point in their relationship occurs after her newfound friend, Jo (Cobie Smulders), convinces her that Alex is trustworthy. Soon after, we are shown a typical Sparks movie scene-the couple playfully interacts on the beach while taking a trip with Alex’s kids before going canoeing, only to be interrupted by an unexpected rainstorm (sound familiar, fans of “The Notebook”?). And the steamy, dimly-lit love scene that ensues looks nearly identical to that of Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in “Dear John.”
Despite these archetypal instances, Katie does not remain unscathed for long, as her past comes back to haunt her. This exhibits the film’s strength, as audiences are left questioning whether or not Katie is a victim or felon. Her luck takes another disastrous turn, when Alex questions her motives. Eventually, she has to face a terrifying situation that could compromise her life, as well as the safety Alex’s family. The last 20 or so minutes of the film feature considerable graphic violence uncharacteristic of this genre and a bizarre realization regarding Katie’s friendship with Jo.
Before seeing “Safe Haven,” I was concerned it would follow in the footsteps of “The Lucky One,” which was slow-moving and featured Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling, whose lackluster chemistry just couldn’t convey the romance Sparks writes about. Fortunately, Hough did a surprisingly good job portraying a domestic abuse victim and her chemistry with Duhamel proved to be one of the most believable of the Sparks’ film pairings. The film’s director, Lasse Hallström, did a superior job in ensuring the film had a mix of suspenseful plot as well as romantic moments that fans look for. The only flaw is the film’s shocking but abrupt ending. This may have been done to add more of a dramatic element, but it would’ve been nice to see more of a reaction from the main character regarding this plot twist.“Safe Haven,” yet still not straying from the usual, picturesque romances shown in Sparks’ films, offers viewers a suspenseful story that surely sets itself apart from it’s predecessors.