Dark Harbor (1998)

US / 87 minutes / color / Hart Sharp, Killer, ACC Dir: Adam Coleman Howard Pr: John N. Hart Jr., Jeffrey Sharp, Justin Lazard Scr: Adam Coleman Howard, Justin Lazard Cine: Walt Lloyd Cast: Alan Rickman, Polly Walker, Norman Reedus, Janet Mecca.

Bickering as they drive through a downpour, late for the ferry to take them to their island vacation home near Dark Harbor, Maine, grumpy lawyer Dave Weinberg (Rickman) and his pretty wife Alexis “Lex” (Walker) find a bruised young drifter (Reedus) lying by the roadside. He refuses to let them call the cops or a doctor.

Dark Harbor

Seduction by mushroom.

Having missed their ferry, the Weinbergs overnight at the port and catch a boat the next morning. Although they don’t know it, so does the drifter. Later, out sailing, the Weinbergs are caught by a mist and are lucky to come to land, on the remote Seal Rock. To their astonishment, the drifter is there before them, with a tale of his own. When the mist clears, the trio sail back to the vacation house. Next day, before the Weinbergs wake up, the drifter prepares a sumptuous breakfast; Dave insists the drifter stay on until the evening so that Dave can return the compliment by cooking a gourmet dinner. In the meantime, though, Dave must go play a round of duty golf with an important client.

All through the day, Alexis and the drifter revel in each other’s company, and one can sense the sexual attraction growing between them—in Alexis’s case, the desire is additionally fueled by copious quantities of booze. She tells the drifter tales of her privileged youth—of the huge wealth of her English family, of the detestation her mother (Mecca) has for Dave, of the suicide of her father when Alexis was eight. When the pair go mushrooming and find a species reputed to have great aphrodisiac properties—along with its highly poisonous near-twin—they almost trip over the line into intimacy before Alexis pushes the drifter away.

Next day the drifter’s still there, and Dave’s in a foul mood. It becomes evident he was spying on the pair’s quasi-loveplay throughout the previous day. In a sudden fury he tells Alexis that the seven years of his marriage to her have been like seven years in a coffin, that he understands why Daddy killed himself all those years ago. A violent showdown seems inevitable, but . . .

For a while it seems as if Dark Harbor is going to be a riff on the theme of NÓZ W WODZIE (1962; vt Knife in the Water) and DEAD CALM (1989), but the movie’s final minutes force us to reevaluate everything that has gone before; there’s been a focused episode of godgaming going on, and we have been as much a victim of it as anyone in the movie.

Both Rickman and Walker are of course from the UK. While Walker is playing a Brit and so retains her UK accent, Rickman, in an odd casting choice, plays her American husband and thus must affect a US accent; since we know his natural speaking voice so well from his Harry Potter appearances and countless others, from time to time it can be difficult not to be disconcerted by the “wrong” voice emerging from his lips. All three of the principals are otherwise excellent, with Walker perhaps taking the laurels as the adult reification of the outrageously spoilt child she once was.

The movie’s pace is deliberate, allowing us time to appreciate Lloyd’s superb cinematography. This slowness is seen by some to be boring, by others (including this viewer) to be quite mesmerizing as little details of character and event amass steadily to point us toward the real story that’s being told behind the godgaming edifice constructed to serve as the superficial narrative.

On Amazon.com: Dark Harbor

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