Safe ★★★★½

[85]

Lynch-meets-Kubrick; fully aware of how hyperbolic that description might sound, but I have no qualms about making it. Todd Haynes formulates an aperitif of desperation and bleakness with a bedrock of uniformity and habitual sterility; his use of wide shots portending the growing isolation that Carol feels from the world around her, with a persistent, low-frequency hum permeating the background whenever the camera closes in, amassing with menace and vicarious discomfort. SAFE is not a movie you'll feel particularly "good" about watching. It's carelessly unsettling in even the most nonchalant of ways; sure, the public nosebleeds and panic attacks are frightening in their abstruseness, but how about the disdain Carol's husband emits when she admits to having a headache for the umpteenth night in a row? Or how nothing can quite describe the alloy of pity, shame, and empathy I feel when we first see Carol wheeling an oxygen tank behind her. Not remotely joking when I say the first hour-or-so of this is nearly flawless (my only gripe being Carol's car-ride coughing fit, which feels semi-stagey and depicts Moore's single misstep throughout—she's perfect otherwise). Once we arrive at Wrenwood, the rhythm staggers a little, esp. in some of the scenes involving Friedman's Peter Dunning, but even then, there's hardly a moment when the movie refrains from pecking away at your psyche's natural veil of security. When Greg comes to visit for the first time, his observable detachment from "these people" and the clinical repulsion he excretes as Carol tries to "show him around" the retreat makes me writhe with agony, yet I can't bring myself to look away (capped off with Greg’s stomach-churning au revoir, "Can I give you a hug?"). A disturbing look at a woman prying for meaning amidst her disarmingly superficial existence who—in her vacuous search for "betterment"—only quarantines herself further from reality, plastically "going through the motions" in hopes she’ll fool somebody with this charade: first her husband and child ("I really think I'm getting better"), then her fellow "captives" (the regurgitative birthday party speech), and finally herself, as she looks helplessly into the mirror within her secluded dome, depleted as ever, vacantly repeating, "I love you." Nauseating in the best way.

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