December 13, 2019

Review Safe (1995)


“SAFE” (1995)
By Todd Haynes | USA, UK
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Suburban cultism has always been a prominent theme in cinema that is now quickly becoming one of my new favorite subgenres. There’s just something so unnerving and terrifying when you associate the safe space of a seemingly quite neighborhood with the toxicity of a seeded dangerous that actually succumbs it. In “Safe”, that toxicity itself became a literal danger to our protagonist, Carol, the most affluent and at the same time ignorant member of the pristine white american neighborhood she lives in. She is the manifestation of normality, of sickening perfection; the kind of person who complains on the wrong sofa color and goes to yoga exercises without dropping a single sweat. And so it would only be natural for her to be the main target to the looming threat this suburban flick presents, one that disguises itself as an environmental message that at its core carries a more personal and psychological weight than we might expect.
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“Safe” has been described as a horror film within its soul — a description that director, Todd Haynes, relishes on. And to be honest, it’s easy to see why. There’s a sense of mystery that surrounds the film especially in its jarring opening. Without introduction or exposition, the story kicks off immediately as if it assumed we would automatically associate the normality of its world; the world of your typical normal suburban life. The characters we get to meet also embodies the stereotypically ‘normal’, where people treat anything outside of their routines as threats or disturbance, which quickly becomes a problem as Carol, our lovely sample of a white housewife started to feel irrationally ill. Instead of taking action, we see both Carol and her surroundings respond to this irrationally with confusion, followed by justification. “Must be your diet,” a friend of her said before suggesting her to start a fruit diet. But clearly it isn’t enough to justify nor to run from these disturbances. There’s something wrong with Carol and she eventually has to face this.
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At this midpoint does the film reveals itself to be something else entirely than the meditative exploration on suburban life that we initially expect it to be. Although I wouldn’t disclose what’s the plot point here (it’s way more interesting to discover it yourself), the issues the film touches on after that ranges so widely that it may even seem random at first. From environmental awareness, self-acceptance, all the way into cultism, these points of interest all adds up into a very layered character driven story that immensely grips your attention until its very end. Yet instead of giving you the definitive answer, Todd Haynes sneakily ends this second film of his with a question. Where do these sudden yet deadly problems we could encounter at any moment comes from? Or more importantly, where is it hiding when all seems normal?
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“Safe” is a great example of using normality as a contrasting statement to the abnormal. It is a study on danger and how it can easily invade the stability we created to keep us comfortable; one that usually takes form in the neighborhood and the houses we put ourselves in.
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