Picks and Pans Review: Safe
The suburban Los Angeles homemaker (Moore) at the center of this modern-day horror film, a satire that is never quite satirical enough, is leading a Stepford Wife life. Unburdened by a job or financial concerns, she fritters away her days shopping, bouncing through aerobics classes, lunching with friends and redecorating the too-perfect, oversize house she shares with her dorky husband (Xander Berkeley) and 10-year-old stepson. Her life is so empty that a new couch arriving in the wrong color is enough to ruin her week. "We wanted teal. We ordered teal," she says plaintively to the store's clerk, "but we received black."
Soon, though, Moore is sniffling, sneezing, suffering nosebleeds and feeling terminally pooped. Doctors can find nothing wrong, but eventually she comes to believe that she is afflicted with something the members of the support group she joins, all similarly ill, call 20th-century disease. This means she has become allergic to many of the 60,000 chemicals found in everyday life. Or, as she explains to a pal, "You know our couch, our beautiful new couch? Totally toxic." (The actual name for her malady is multiple chemical sensitivity, now a medically recognized condition.)
Although Moore, growing ever more wan and frail, is herself remarkably compelling, one soon starts to lose patience with her character, particularly as she retreats deeper and deeper into her malady and becomes a follower of a crackpot guru (Peter Friedman). This woman, boring to begin with, doesn't grow emotionally or spiritually through suffering; rather, she shrivels. Still, as written and directed by Todd Haynes (Poison), Safe is numbingly fascinating, partly due to its carefully composed, antiseptic visual style and its throbbingly threatening soundtrack (when Moore's husband is about to spritz on his chemical-laden deodorant, the music becomes as menacing as the shark's attack theme in Jaws). If nothing else, Safe will make you think twice before ordering the fake butter topping for that movie popcorn. (R)