TIFF Review: 'October Gale'

October Gale
(Canada, 91 min.)
Written and directed by Ruba Nadda
Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Scott Speedman, Tim Roth, Callum Keith Rennie
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Ruba Nadda tries her hand at genre again in October Gale, which has its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, after seeing mixed results with her TIFF '12 Gala selection Inescapable. October Gale certainly marks an improvement for Nadda after the clunky Middle East-set thriller, but let's hope third time's a charm. The film makes little sense and feels farfetched even for such a tale of two-handed realism, plus the finale sequence is so hokey and bizarrely-lit (why are there flood lights outdoors at midnight during a blackout?) that this jaunt to cottage country might not be worth the trip. October Gale is mostly, if only, worth seeing for the lead performance by a strong Patricia Clarkson, who wields a shotgun like a motherfucker in an unexpected departure from her body of work.

October Gale reunites Nadda and Clarkson after 2009's Cairo Time, which won the Festival's prize for Best Canadian Feature Film. Their comfort working together rings clearly, but a few tells in the film suggest they would be more comfortable making Cairo Time 2. Some lyrical flashbacks offer Nadda’s most confident moments: she peppers this thriller with fleeting romanticism while racking up the tension. Nadda displays a better hand at piecing together a thriller since Inescapable, though, for October Gale moves swiftly through a simple premise. Helen (Clarkson) returns to her cottage in Georgian Bay one year after her husband (Callum Keith Rennie) died in a boating accident, and she's joined by a mysterious stranger named Will (Scott Speedman), who washes ashore with a bullet in his arm and some locals on his tail. October Gale moves breathlessly like a bullet—it’s startlingly and unexpectedly swift.

Helen takes control of the situation, although October Gale foreshadows her resourcefulness early on when she opens the cottage on her own without a hitch despite the concerns of her son. October Gale builds a tense waiting game as Helen and Will fortify the island against incoming strangers and weather the storm that leaves them trapped on the island.

October Gale takes one of the greatest comforts in Canadiana--the cottage getaway--and turns it on the viewer by trapping Helen in her one personal safe haven. Nadda makes great use of the singular setting to make this minimalist thriller realistic and unsettling. Taking the inescapable island and engulfing it in a hostile environment, October Gale feels like a rare thriller rooted in a cultural mythology of the beautiful yet threatening landscape and the unknown perils within. If only Nadda focused more on the atmosphere and psychology of the film and less on the generic elements.

October Gale feels equally 'Canadian' with the overall politeness of the situation as the characters exchange pleasantries and niceties as they brace themselves for the worst. 'Make us some coffee,' says Helen to Will before adds her most assertive command, 'Black, with sugar.' October loses a little credibility with its neighborly vibe, for Helen and Will even play a little cribbage as they kill time waiting for people to come kill them.

The cool heroine goes so far to offer coffee to the baddies when they show up and break her face. She even apologizes that it isn't fresh. How Canadian. 

Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

October Gale screens:
-Thursday, September 11 at 8:00 pm at the Winter Garden
-Friday, Sept. 12 at 9:15 am at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Please visit www.tiff.net for more information on this year’s Festival.

Update: October Gale opens in Ottawa at Landmark Kanata on April 10.