Safe Haven review – staying in the comfortable lane

Safe Haven plays out just like title implies

Safe Haven is a suspense thriller that the filmmakers keep forgetting is supposed to be a simple Nicholas Sparks novel turned romance drama. This is a film where the creators are trying to do more than necessary when a basic storytelling approach was all that was needed.

After an incident that leaves her covered in blood, Katie (Julianne Hough, Rock of Ages) flees her Boston hometown and narrowly evades getting caught by police detective Tierney (an edgy David Lyons). She stops in Southport, North Carolina; a sleepy, quiet town where everyone is polite and crime is so minimal the sheriff spends most of his time planning the 4th of July firework display.


Katie finds a job at a beachfront restaurant and a fixer-upper home in the woods. She meets Jo (Cobie Smulders, Marvel’s The Avengers), her laid-back neighbor who helps her acclimate to southern hospitality, especially once the widowed corner-store owner, Alex (Josh Duhamel, When in Rome) takes an interest in her.

His children, Josh (Noah Lomax) and Lexie (an adorable Mimi Kirkland), are constantly underfoot/nowhere to be found as needed for the story.

I’m still not sold on Hough as a leading lady. She’s attractive so of course that helps, but I’m always aware that she’s ‘acting’ as opposed to just getting lost in whatever character she’s portraying.


Duhamel is hard to dislike though as he naturally makes you root for Alex to win Katie’s heart. Still, Duhamel is so likable his scenes with Hough shine and there’s worse pairings than two pretty people gazing at each other for a couple of hours.

Tierney’s unusually obsessed with tracking her down and his subplot runs so counter to the rest of the film, that it’s an annoying and frequent distraction.

James Bridges/Relativity MediaJosh Duhamel and Julianne Hough star in Relativity Media's "Safe Haven."

Director Lasse Hallström, who previously adapted Sparks’ Dear John, wants to keep the audience guessing, but he underestimates their ability to catch on. He unintentionally calls more attention to things that could have been a surprise if he wasn’t so insistent on setting up twists that most will have figured out long before they’re revealed.

The film’s uneven tone makes a bit more sense considering the writers. Lelise Bohem, who penned the action/horror The Darkest Hour, partners with City of Angels screenwriter Dana Stevens and the two seem to battle over if the film is a cute romance drama or a thriller.

While the may be sticking painfully accurate to Sparks’ novel, the approach doesn’t work as well on the big screen. It’s especially frustrating as Hallström handles the romance aspect much better and he’s got enough to work with on that front.


Instead we’re treated to a glorified Lifetime mystery movie of the week with a more relevant cast. Skip Safe Haven as it’ll just leave you heartbroken on what could have been.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Photo credit: James Bridges/Relativity Media