Dir/scr: Ruba Nadda. Canada. 2014. 91mins
Canadian writer/director Ruba Nadda reunites with her Cairo Time star Patricia Clarkson for a different kind of cottage thriller in October Gale. This disjointed hybrid between dramatic romance and tense manhunt offers a slow build to its obvious conclusion. Somehow, even when there are guns involved, emotional characters remain deep in conversation, spouting platitudes on the wounds we bear and the time it takes to mend, both literally and figuratively. Welcome to the feel-good thriller of the year.
The film is a fine showcase of all things Canadian, including sweeping aerial cinematography of Georgian Bay and the filmmakers’ uncanny ability to enter a genre and think outside the proverbial box.
Following her husband’s (Callum Keith Rennie) death, Toronto doctor Helen Matthews (Patricia Clarkson) retreats to her cottage in Georgian Bay, Ontario for a little R&R. But when the lonely widow finds William (Scott Speedman), a gunshot-wounded stranger, has entered her home, she reluctantly shelters him and tends to his wounds, but not without risk. In accordance with the cinematic law of guilt by association, William’s presence endangers Helen, naturally. The plot thickens (and tenses) when Tom (Tim Roth) arrives on the island to finish the job he started and kill William.
Although it’s refreshing to see a female actress over 50 starring in such a thriller, Clarkson’s starring role, a subtle exercise in quiet dignity and stoic resolve, might discourage a key demographic of younger viewers. The unlikely duo even make a point of dumping shovel, axe, and all other clichéd tool shed weapons into the Bay, literally throwing out genre conventions. The story surprises in parts, but Nadda can’t help but succumb to lonely women clichés, including a brief but regretted kiss, and the inevitable invitation to get together “if you’re not busy sometime.”
Despite his role in the Underworld franchise, Speedman is neither a household face nor name, and the combination of Clarkson and Roth, who does not appear until the third act, may not be sufficient to pull in the major box office numbers. To his credit, Speedman demonstrates that he is not merely an interchangeable face, but quite adept at playing a sensitive soul filled with regret.
Like so many Canadian films, October Gale will likely fizzle into and out of existence. None of this speculation changes the fact that all talent involved are acting at the top of their game, offering deeply emotional performances but little else. October Gale is obviously Canadian, and if Scott Speedman isn’t a dead giveaway, there’s an HBC point wool blanket draped over Helen’s couch for good measure. Still, the film is a fine showcase of all things Canadian, including sweeping aerial cinematography of Georgian Bay and the filmmakers’ uncanny ability to enter a genre and think outside the proverbial box.
Production company: Blue Ice Pictures
International sales: Myriad Pictures, www.myriadpictures.com
Producers: Daniel Iron
Executive producers: Kirk D’Amico, Christine Vachon, Emily Alden, Lance Samuels, Steven Silver, Neil Tabatznik
Cinematography: Jeremy Benning
Production designer: Gordon Barnes
Editor: Wiebke von Carolsfeld
Music: Mischa Chillak
Main cast: Patricia Clarkson, Scott Speedman, Tim Roth, Callum Keith Rennie