Nicholas Sparks is infamous for delivering tearjerkers, with The Notebook and Dear John already to his name. The author’s silverscreen adaptations have accounted for more than their fair share of teary eyes and Safe Haven continues that trend – with a previously unseen thrilling edge.
The film centres around the mysterious Katie (Julianne Hough – Rock of Ages) who is bidding to start afresh in sleepy Southport, North Carolina, fighting to free herself from a mysterious past. As she settles into the seaside resort she tries in vain to keep herself from forming any emotional ties to anyone or anything in the area.
The owner of the local store – Alex (Josh Duhamel – Transformers) begins to take a shine to the new arrival and all seems well. It appears that Katie has finally found her safe haven, focusing on the future with new best friend Jo (Cobie Smulders – How I Met Your Mother) supporting her along the way. However, a dark secret is hot on her heels determined to keep her from making a new life in Southport or anywhere.
Hough and Duhamel combine well as the pair of reluctant lovers with great chemistry despite working against their own inconvenient pasts. Smulders – though limited in terms of screen time – is exceptional as Jo engaging a particularly powerful confrontation with Katie. David Lyons is particularly stellar in the supporting cast, bringing to life a character who is difficult to translate from page to screen with frightening force.
The film culminates in a thrilling finale which, until this point, has been far from Sparks’s trademark, with his works usually being about as dark and sinister as a poodle eating a marshmallow. However, the dark undertones are delivered with panache by director Lasse Hallström who continually hints there is more beneath the surface of this idyllic second chance love story without giving everything away too early.
As the audience reels from the pulsating climax, Sparks’s final pièce de résistance is again handled beautifully by Hallström leading to a memorable “no way!” moment as the final frames play out and the tears fall.
Unfortunately, writers Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens are hampered by a limited running time but do their best to condense a powerful novel into a surely unforgettable girls’ night in film for years to come.