Not rated | Time: 1:31
A woman alone in the movies is rarely alone for long.
In “October Gale,” a low-key character study gives way to increasingly clamorous melodrama when a widowed doctor, Helen (Patricia Clarkson), finds a bleeding man making a mess on the floor of her lakeside vacation home. Having gone out to inspect a noise (and left her front door open), she’s returned to find William (Scott Speedman), a handsome stranger — good looks being a prerequisite for gigs like this — with a bullet in his shoulder. While some women might run for a kitchen knife, this good doctor starts dressing his wound.
The title refers to the nearing storm that’s at once a narrative device and enveloping metaphor. Here, clouds don’t just threaten, they also suggest the difficulties Helen has weathered since the death of her husband, James (Callum Keith Rennie). She’s come to open the house, prettily situated alone on an island several hours north of Toronto, mostly so the writer and director, Ruba Nadda, can point up Helen’s past dependence on James and her current autonomy.
Clarkson tries to imbue feeling into the house opening, but is hampered by Nadda underplaying some moments (Helen packing James’ clothes) and overstating others (her fussing about a fuse).
That fuse has another function: It’s for some exterior lights that Helen will soon wish were working. Clarkson always raises her characters’ IQ, but that Helen doesn’t realize she should swap out the fuse for another is as maddening as her relatively cool reaction to the blood smeared on her open door. Leaving that door ajar registers as a human error; walking past it when it’s newly decorated with blood comes across as a storytelling contrivance, a way to trap Helen in the house even if it also makes her look reckless or dumb. That she quickly eases into a cozy rapport with the stranger also makes her conveniently trusting (and available).
Nadda spends considerable time laying out what Helen lost, mostly through copious fragmented flashbacks. They’re pretty, as are the landscapes that may have you thinking about Canada for your next vacation, yet Helen remains more of a generic type than a credible woman, despite her periodic tugs on your sympathies.
Clarkson and Speedman do what they can with their underwritten and overly contrived roles, including when the story lurches into romance. (A single woman in the movies is rarely single for long.)
Late in the game, Tim Roth boats in as Tom, a local with a grudge, and shocks the movie to life by throwing some lightning bolts of his own.
| Manohla Dargis
The New York Times