Director: Ruba Nadda
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Scott Speedman, Tim Roth, Aidan Devine, Callum Keith Rennie
Run Time: 91 minutes
Synopsis: Whilst mourning the death of her husband on their island retreat, a widowed doctor is forced to treat a mysterious man who washes ashore during stormy weather with a gunshot wound.
Premiering during a special presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), OCTOBER GALE is a dramatic thriller that’s too devoid of tension to be considered thrilling and far short of emotional and relatable characters to be considered dramatic.
All this is a shame because the opening sequence of sweeping Parry Sound long shots and Steadicam shots of Helen (Patricia Clarkson) opening and cleaning the family’s vacation cottage offered a promising segue into what appears to be (on the surface), a study in normative bereavement with a murderous twist. Likewise, the film’s setting is a beautiful contradiction of comfortable isolation that quickly dissipates as the story’s nonsensical and improbable choices become too incredulous to be believable.
Grieving the loss of her husband (played in silent flashbacks by Callum Keith Rennie) in a wild storm the previous year, Toronto doctor Helen Matthews (Clarkson) decides to return to her family’s isolated cottage in an effort to move on. After single-handedly opening up the warm and comforting home in Georgian Bay, Helen begins the arduous task of sifting through and removing some of the mementos accumulated during their 32-year marriage.
The visual and aural planes of this transition from acceptance to perseverance are well crafted; the non-diegetic musical score gives way to diegetic empathetic sounds of the bay that feel crisp and renewing. Fortuitously so considering Helen shortly thereafter comes face-to-face with an unexpected and mysterious gentleman (Scott Speedman) crawling and bleeding on her floor with a gunshot wound. After treating his wound and grabbing her rifle, Helen waits for the stranger to wake up and when he does, Will is vague about the attack and about his life thus far until local handyman Al (Aidan Devine) decides to pay Helen an unexpected visit. Will relents and reveals that he had spent time in prison for manslaughter after a bar-fight and that the guy’s father ‘is not going to stop until he’s killed me’.
As the storm gains momentum outside, Helen agrees (stupidly I might add) to allow Will to stay in her home as they lazily prepare themselves for Al and the gunman to return. The script here is utter wish-wash: writer/director Ruba Nadda (INESCAPABLE) fails to build any suspense and tension for the ensuing action causing it to fall flat, it fails to explain how Helen’s appears to be a survivalist doctor who’s also a crack shot, nor the circumstances of Will’s incarceration and Helen’s inconceivable trust in a man she just met.
Clarkson and Speedman should however, be applauded for their performances: extracting every nuance they could from their two-dimensional characters to at least be creditable. Overall, if ‘it’s OK’ are the only two words I can come up with after 91 minutes, it’s probably safe to say you might want to wait to watch it on video.
[usr=2] OCTOBER GALE opens on 27th March in Canada, with further dates to be announced.