On the surface, the Canadian indie thriller October Gale has a lot going for it. It's got a prime Georgian Bay location with just the right balance of beauty and forbidding atmosphere, a lead performance from Patricia Clarkson (Six Feet Under), a supporting turn from Tim Roth (Lie to Me) and a director who previously collaborated with Clarkson on the lovely romance Cairo Time. Alas, what it doesn't have is a story worth ninety minutes of your time.
Clarkson plays Helen Matthews, a woman who is still attempting to come to terms with the recent death of her husband (Callum Keith Rennie, appearing in occasional flashbacks). She decides to get away for a little while and visit their small Lake Huron vacation home. For a good fifteen or twenty minutes, we're treated to a series of scenes that might as well be called, “a sad woman putters around her dusty old lake house for a while.” I suppose these scenes are meant to establish a tone or something, but they feel like the sort of filler directors used to put in old horror movies when they needed to bump the running time up to ninety minutes.
Anyway, eventually a bit of excitement arrives in the form of a stranger named Will (Scott Speedman, Underworld), who has been shot and is in desperate need of medical attention. Helen patches him up (it just so happens that she's a doctor) and begins pressing him for information (and eventually begins pressing him for other things). Here, too, the brief burst of interest quickly turns into something fairly dull, as an uneventful mystery and an uneventful romance simmer quietly while nothing in particular happens. There are more lovely outdoor shots, which is a plus. I really ought to visit Canada sometime.
It's easy to see what director Ruba Nadda is going for here. This same basic framework could serve as the foundation of an exceptional romantic thriller, and Nadda has the technical chops to pull it off. Her shots are attractively framed and she draws solid performances out of all of her actors, but there's not enough meat on the bone to keep us interested. Motivations are poorly explained, tension fades as quickly as it appears and the initial mystery (who is this guy and who shot him?) isn't gripping enough to sustain our interest until answers arrive.
Speaking of which, Tim Roth's appearance in the third act proves a real shot in the arm: his nasty, forceful performance brings some much-needed energy to the proceedings. Unfortunately, he's only around for fifteen minutes or so, and after he exits we're given a lackluster coda that fails to generate the emotional impact it's going for. I don't want to be too hard on the film, because it's clearly a noble failure and not a half-hearted cash grab (the world is full of awful thrillers, many of them far more tedious than this), but I'd be lying if I said the film was even a little bit satisfying.
Rating: ★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 91 minutes
Release Year: 2015