Content Warning: The movie includes depictions of domestic violence. Also, the movie is not good.
Uh, yeah. Save Haven is not a good movie. It’s not like I went into it with especially high expectations, but, you know, Josh Duhamel is not unpleasant to look at and he was perfectly fine in The Lost Husband, so I thought it would be mediocre-but-watchable, which is a perfectly good category when that’s what you’re in the mood for. This movie is not, as it turns out, watchable. Not even several scenes where Josh Duhamel is shirtless and one scene with an Unexpectedly Drenching (But In A Romantic Way) Rainstorm could save Safe Haven. Linear time ceased to have meaning and I’m pretty sure I aged fifteen years in the hour and fifty-five minutes it took for this movie to—blessedly—come to an end.
Look, there are going to be ALL the spoilers in this review, so if you plan to actually watch this movie, please read no further. Also, if you plan to watch this movie…maybe change that plan?
Let’s begin at the beginning—which is slightly better than the end—where a woman named Katie (Julianne Hough) is fleeing Boston on what I seem to remember is a rainy night. She’s running from something bad, but it’s not clear exactly what happened except that she was Very Upset, Scared, and Covered In Blood. An older woman (Irene Ziegler) is helping her escape, so it’s likely that a Bad Man is after her because nice older women in movies like this one only help morally good people. A couple of police officers are after her, but they lose her in the bus station because she is smart enough dye and cut her hair. Eventually, the bus she’s on makes a stop in a small town in North Carolina where you know Katie is going to stay because Josh Duhamel owns the convenience store there. (Side note: There are almost zero non-white people in this movie. Almost all the extras appear to be white. It’s…something. And not something good.) He has two young children, and you know he’s a good dad because he has a dead wife and wears a bracelet made by one of his kids. You also know he’s going to fall for Katie because she immediately hits it off with his adorable young daughter. None of these things are necessarily a recipe for it being a bad movie. Predictability has its place in this genre.
Katie rents a house in the middle of the woods. In case the rustic exterior didn’t clue you in to its rustic-ness, the fact that Katie’s foot goes through the floorboards will. Katie wants to be alone and is Emotionally Unavailable, which is a good indicator that she’s going to fall in love pretty damn soon. A LOT of the movie is spent on extremely mundane and slow-moving things, like Katie getting a job at a local restaurant. Katie ordering paint to brighten up her house. Katie going to the beach with Josh Duhamel and his kids. Josh Duhamel’s son being angry because he misses his mom. And Katie and Josh Duhamel going to for a canoe ride, getting caught in a freak rainstorm, and then spending the whole day together. I don’t know how it doesn’t sound absolutely boring when I list it here, but it was deeply dire to watch it. Some of it is that Josh Duhamel and Katie lack some spark. Or maybe it’s better said that Katie lacks a spark. She’s pretty flat, which isn’t unrealistic for a woman that has been through some major trauma, but I don’t think that’s what the movie was going for. She just looks bored most of the time when I think she’s supposed to look scarred and wary. And the characters have no character. Her character is “woman who escaped something bad and is still scared, but also hopeful.” His character is “good man in a small town whose wife died, but he’s plowing ahead anyway.” That’s it. That’s the sum total of who they are. What? Oh, sorry. I dozed off for a moment there.
Anyhoodle, back in Boston the police officer (David Lyons) is still doggedly searching for Katie. Don’t worry, though, he is also boring to watch. At first it seems pretty above board. He goes door-to-door with her picture, he tries to figure out where her bus could have gone, and he sends out a nation-wide APB for her being wanted for first degree murder. Wait, what?!? Could sweet, boring Katie be a murderer?!? No.
Then the police officer goes back to the scene of the crime and it’s still just like it was the night Katie fled, which seems weird. I actually have zero idea how much time has passed, but definitely longer than one would expect to leave a pool of human blood on the floor and unwashed dishes in the sink. Then the police officer starts really harassing the older woman, and it turns out that he is actually Katie’s very abusive husband who is also a blazing alcoholic. This is serious stuff and Katie should likely be seeing a therapist to process her years of trauma and abuse, but she’s definitely not going to in this movie.
I forgot to mention that Josh Duhamel fixes up a bike and leaves it outside Katie’s house in the middle of the night. She is, understandably, freaked out when she hears someone outside her house in the dark of the night. Did he not pick up on the fact that she’s scared? Probably not because, like I said, she mostly looks bored. She refuses to accept the bike because she doesn’t want to owe him anything. But then her neighbor (Cobie Smulders)—who shows up randomly to talk to Katie about how much she wants to travel—insists that it’s not a big deal to take the bike, so Katie takes the bike and eventually takes the, um, other things Josh Duhamel offers her, if you know what I mean. (I mean sex.) The whole neighbor part is confusing to me and really didn’t move the story forward and is mostly boring, but it turns out the neighbor Has a Purpose.
So eventually the police officer gets caught for putting out a fake APB on Katie because she didn’t kill anyone at all. Nope. She stabbed him as she escaped from him when he was trying to kill her because he is actually her very abusive husband who fills his water bottles with vodka because he thinks no one will notice. As a result of all the illegal things he did, he gets his gun and badge taken from him and I think he’s put on suspension. It does, sadly, seem pretty realistic that there wouldn’t be any serious repercussions for him abusing his power, beating up his wife, and carrying around vodka in his water bottle during work hours. Then he breaks into the older woman’s house and finds out where Katie is and follows her to the small town. He gets very sweaty in the process, which I think is to show he’s an unstable alcoholic because everything up until this point has not been enough to demonstrate that. Before the husband gets to the town, Josh Duhamel finds the wanted flyer for Katie and is briefly angry before telling her that he loves her and begs her to stay, which she does because life is easy peasy lemon squeezy like that when you’re on the run from a very dangerous human being. Everything comes to a head on the Fourth of July when there is a big celebration in town where the husband shows up, attacks Katie, and sets Josh Duhamel’s store on fire, nearly killing his daughter. As one would expect, the husband is eventually killed, the daughter is rescued, Josh Duhamel’s son is suddenly not angry anymore, there is no investigation of his death, and Katie moves in with Josh Duhamel and his children. It sounds heart pounding, but trust me when I say it’s incredibly not heart pounding or tear jerking.
But wait! There’s one more reveal! Before she died, Josh Duhamel’s wife wrote letters to give to her children. One for her son on his 18th birthday and graduation, and one to her daughter on her wedding day. (Let’s not talk about how gendered and presumptuous those letters seem.) These survive the fire because they are inside a metal desk, I guess. And, it turns out there’s one “For Her,” which Josh Duhamel gives to Katie. That’s right, his wife wrote a letter to the future woman that she just knew Josh Duhamel would fall in love with, giving her blessing and stuff. Whatever. The letter isn’t really my point. My point is that it turns out that Katie’s neighbor in the woods WAS ACTUALLY THE GHOST OF JOSH DUHAMEL’S DEAD WIFE. I… It’s… I have so many questions. The Ghost Wife just showed up to start chatting with Katie about her dreams of travel and the color Katie was painting her floor? The Ghost Wife lied to Katie about living down the road? Is that really a good thing for Katie, who must have a lot of trust issues after living in an abusive relationship for so long? Why was the Ghost Wife so focused on Katie when she could have been helping her son? Does the Ghost Wife not think Josh Duhamel is a competent father and that’s why she was making sure he hooked up with Katie? And yes, I understand that she wanted to make Josh Duhamel happy again, but maybe he would have been content without a new wife. And will Katie ever explain to Josh Duhamel that they were actually set up by his dead wife? How would that go over? Would he be, like, “Cool. Cool. Cool. That makes total sense and is very romantic”?
And that’s it folks. The Ghost Wife fades into mist and Katie begins her new life with Josh Duhamel and his kids and everybody is just fine. The moral of the story seems to be that you should always listen to friendly ghosts you meet in the woods, women don’t need therapy to get over trauma (just a good man), and your dad sleeping with a nice lady is all kids need to be happy. I mean, who could possibly argue with those lessons? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find my eyeballs, which I rolled so hard while watching Safe Haven they ended up somewhere under my bed.