I had no plans to see Safe Haven. I wasn't covering the movie for any particular reason, and it seemed, from the trailer and word of mouth, like one I could safely skip. Then I started hearing vague references to its twist ending. Then Matt Singer at IndieWire wrote a piece arguing that maybe some movies should be spoiled in advance -- since knowing that a given twist ending is this ludicrous might convince you to spend money on Safe Haven. After researching what this twist ending actually was, I spent money on Saturday to see Safe Haven.
Let me start by saying that I am not at all disappointed with my decision -- the ending was just as bizarre as advertized. Though, I'm fairly certain my fellow audience members who were there to see a well-constructed story do not share my sentiments. Walking out, I overheard a woman who looked to be in her late 60s ask her husband, "Can you believe it was that bad?" (In response, he shrugged.)
As you saw in the title of this post, we are going to discuss the ending of Safe Haven at length. I suspect you are in one of two camps at this point: (a) you are a Nicholas Sparks fan and you've seen Safe Haven, or (b) you have no intentions of seeing Safe Haven or, if you do, it's only because you're being forced to see it. If you are in the latter group, you may want to stick around.
Julianne Hough plays Katie, a woman on the run who finds, yes, safe haven in North Carolina. What she is running from, we're not sure at first. It appears that she's on the run from the police and, through some misleading flashbacks, it does appear that Katie killed someone -- there's even an APB out for her arrest on murder charges. But, you see, there is a twist! (Not the twist, though.) It turns out that the police officer obsessed with finding Katie is her husband. And it turns out that Katie didn't kill anyone, she only slightly stabbed her husband in self-defense because he's an abusive drunk.
It's funny, when I first started hearing about "the twist," I assumed it would turn out to be the false murder rap. (Like the husband at the movie theater would later do, I shrugged.) Boy, I was wrong.
So, once Katie gets to North Carolina, she befriends a widower named Alex, played by Josh Duhamel. She also befriends her new neighbor, Jo, played by Cobie Smulders. For 80 percent of the movie, it's just scene after scene of Typical Movie Romance -- there are floor painting and conversations about kale. All the while, Katie confides her feelings toward Alex to her new friend, Jo. (This is your last chance to stop reading before we get to the twist.)
So, Jo is a ghost. And not just any ghost; she's the ghost of Alex's dead wife, who wants to make sure that Katie is a serviceable replacement. Now, again, I knew this before I saw Safe Haven, but knowing didn't make the movie any less absurd. (During the reveal, the crowd let out an audible groan.) I couldn't help but wonder what supernatural rules govern the universe of this movie. I mean, the first time we meet Jo, she's peering into the window of Katie's home and seems genuinely startled when Katie sneaks up on her from behind. (Is this possible? Can a living human not only sneak up on a ghost but startle a ghost?) I suppose some clues are there: Jo seems very interested in Alex, Joe never participates in any group events, Jo watches passively (or dickishly) as Katie paints her floor with no help.
This is one of the most insane twists that I've ever seen in a movie. Not because it's a great twist, but because it's so out of left field. Actually, the rather pedestrian notion of "left field" doesn't do this justice. It's more out of left of left field -- you know, where the ball boy sits waiting for foul balls to scoop up and toss into the stands. It's as if that guy all of a sudden came up with this twist. I mean, there is nothing about the tone of Safe Haven that would ever make you think that one of the main characters is a ghost.
(I have not read Nicholas Sparks' book, but I have been told that in the book the reader is brought in on the supernatural nature of Jo's existence long before the end of the story.)
Let's put it this way, here are the only twists that I could come up with that were more insane than the one in Safe Haven.
· When it was revealed that Ben Affleck's character in Argo was a ghost.
· When it turned out that Bob Sugar was a ghost in Jerry Maguire.
· When I discovered that all of the penguins were ghosts in March of the Penguins.
Aside from those totally true examples, Safe Haven has the most absurd ending to a movie that I can remember. Adding to this, when Katie realizes that she befriended a ghost, it does not faze her in the least. The look her face seems to say, Huh. Wadd'ya know?
I am not suggesting that you see Safe Haven based on this twist alone -- but I am kind of suggesting that you see Safe Haven based on this twist alone. It's weird. If my mindset had been, "I want to see a romantic movie that made me cry," I would have walked out just as disappointed as the woman I mentioned earlier. But! Going in with the mindset of, "I want to see this batshit-crazy ending for myself that I've been hearing about all week," well, Safe Haven delivered beyond my wildest dreams.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.