The combination of inclement weather and an injured man by the roadside is bound to add up to no good. In “Dark Harbor” — a three-hander thriller — one just knows this tight little group will be reduced in its ranks. But for all its inevitability, the film manages to keep its darkest secrets to the end. Shy of the sort of charismatic star cast that would ensure it a ticket to the mainstream, the slick indie thriller could score a specialized theatrical success with careful handling. Most likely, however, it will toil in pay cable, earning modest rep and coin.
On a night full of rain, David (Alan Rickman) and Alexis Weinberg (Polly Walker) race to catch the last ferry to their island cottage. Alexis dimly catches sight of something at the side of the road through the sheet of water; when they stop to investigate, they find a young man (Norman Reedus) curled in a ball, bleeding from a severe beating by persons unknown. He accepts their help only after the couple agree that they won’t call the cops.
The detour lasts just a few minutes, but the delay is long enough to leave the couple waving goodbye to the boat. They rent a motel room, sack out for the night, and by morning the prior evening’s drama is virtually forgotten.
But seemingly unknown to them, the man with no name has stowed away on the very ferry that transports them to their island getaway. Soon their paths will cross again, and circumstances will lead the Weinbergs to invite him to stay in their cottage.
The true nature of this oddly shaped triangle provides the primary appeal of “Dark Harbor.” Script by director Adam Coleman Howard and Justin Lazard is rife with situations, real and imagined, that raise the possibility the young man may not be so innocent.
Whether he’s targeted the couple for some terrible fate or was enlisted into a conspiracy by one against the other gives the picture a cat-and-mouse sensibility that’s playful and disturbing.
Howard has a deliberate, measured style that’s effective and eschews any sort of technical razzle-dazzle. The picture feels slow and overtly moody at times but stops short of trying one’s patience or creating frustration by tossing in too many red herrings. Its visual simplicity — kudos to lenser Walt Lloyd — is commendable.
The actors are chillingly effective, though their manner drifts into the obvious at times. Rickman, playing a lawyer, has the type of calculated cool one associates with someone trying to hatch the perfect murder, and Walker seesaws between classic victim and lethal temptress.
Most effective of the group is Reedus, whose character is the most difficult to penetrate. In that respect he becomes the soul of this inky descent into the baser elements that shape human nature.