Dark Harbor (1998), directed by Adam Coleman Howard, stars Alan Rickman (David Weinberg), Polly Walker (Alexis Chandler Weinberg), and Norman Reedus (young man).
The Weinberg couple are driving through the rain to catch a ferry when Alexis spots a young man by the roadside. She urges her husband to stop and help and finds a bruised and battered young man in need of assistance, who insists on them not calling the police. Through a series of circumstances the young man winds up on the couple's island, staying for a few nights and as a result the couple's life gets turned upside down.
Okay, so as a summary that looks kind of cliché, right? A couple picks up a drifter and strange things happen. It is cliché.
What's worse is that this movie is one of those Pinteresque sleight-of-hand things. It drags on in its own pace and you feel the tension under the dialogue the whole time, but it isn't until at the very end that the twist is revealed.
And here's the catch — once you know what the twist is, the subtlety of the acting and all the little strange things that catch and ping on your radar suddenly make it all better. But – and this is the problem too – you actually don't get there until the very end of the movie and by the time you do, you actually need to watch it again to really get and enjoy the many little things that these three actors give you along the way.
Reedus is perfectly cast, slim as a whippet, and with something hidden in his brooding eyes. He can seem boyishly innocent yet at the same time there's something vaguely menacing about him; and that's not only because he carries a knife and lounges around in the background, whittling.
Alan Rickman and Polly Walker play a disaffected couple with so many strange emotional undercurrents going on that there at times seems to be a third party to their every conversation that calls up things like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, not that it's anywhere near that intense, but still. I find my references sidle towards theater, but that is probably easily explained by the fact that most of the action is just the three of them in various constellations.
Still, that doesn't mean this is in any way an untroubled production. There are a couple of blatant goofs that even I react to, and I'm not usually bothered by that stuff. And I would really, really like to have a talk with the person who scored this movie. There are some really smart choices, but mostly the music fails badly. It's overly dramatic when there truly is no need for it, and that always makes me feel like the filmmaker isn't confident in the material carrying its own weight.
There are also a couple of really cheesy camera tricks, like gliding along a corridor to a door while the music tries to build suspense, failing spectacularly.
The biggest problem, though, lies in the fact that in order to fully appreciate and enjoy this movie you have to watch it twice – and it's not entirely certain that the average viewer will want to. It's not good enough for that. Hardened movie-watchers, like myself, might but the regular viewer will probably dismiss that notion right out of hand.
It does bring to mind Polanski's Knife in the Water (1962) but it's nowhere near as brutal. It has art house and noir sensibility and it is, like I said, really well acted, but there are still quite a few things missing. I find myself a little conflicted about the whole thing. That can sometimes be a good thing, but you really have to be in the mood for that sort of challenge.