Night falls, a storm rises and the plot contrivances multiply in "October Gale," a two-hander that pairs Patricia Clarkson and Scott Speedman in a remote Canadian cottage.
Ruba Nadda, who directed Clarkson in "Cairo Time," leans mightily on her lead actress' wistful gaze and on another natural wonder, Ontario's island-dotted Lake Joseph, in a film that begins as a languorous study in grieving and shifts with screeching abruptness into a crime thriller.
Clarkson plays a widowed physician returning to the vacation home she shared with her late husband, seen in fond-bordering-on-precious flashbacks. Though she hesitates dramatically before entering the cozy waterfront house, she's a model of self-sufficiency as she gets the place in working order for the season. Then a conveniently handsome injured man washes up, almost literally, at her wide-open door, and she welcomes the sense of purpose she finds in tending to his gunshot wounds.
As storytelling necessity will have it, they're soon stranded on the rocky islet, asking each other, "How many bullets have you got?" Locked in a romantic standoff over black coffee and cribbage, they brace for the arrival of a character played by Tim Roth, who digs in with gleeful menace as a man with a profound appetite for revenge and a familiarity with "Love in the Time of Cholera."
The action unwinds with the mechanical artifice of a creaky play, though Nadda creates a few strikingly cinematic moments — notably a long shot of Clarkson drifting on the water after her boat loses power. It's a potent image of isolation in a story that quickly grows cluttered with empty intrigue.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Royal, West Los Angeles. Also on VOD.