Ruba Nadda followed up her breakthrough film Cairo Time with thrillers for its two leads: Inescapable for Alexander Siddig, and now October Gale for Patricia Clarkson. Both rely on character-driven drama more than traditional action, exploring the intricacies of family relationships and the repercussions of loss.
Dr. Helen Matthews (Clarkson) was accustomed to peaceful getaways with her husband, James, in the Hamptons of northern Ontario, a lake district that’s long been a retreat for affluent Toronto residents. James died during an October gale on Lake Joseph, and Helen is still submerged in grief as she opens up their island cottage the following spring. Tidying the house triggers memories of James (Callum Keith Rennie), and Nadda uses these flashbacks to illustrate the affection of their 32-year marriage.
During another big storm, Will (Scott Speedman) arrives with a bullet in his shoulder, and Helen kicks into survival mode — saving him and protecting herself. The performances in October Gale subvert genre expectations: Clarkson displays toughness and resolve without turning into Liam Neeson, and the distressed Speedman is as vulnerable as he is determined. When Tim Roth arrives (in his full Rothness) to finish off Speedman, his malevolence is cut with a paternal solicitude.
As in Cairo Time, writer and director Nadda uses location and score to great effect. Cinematographer Jeremy Benning highlights the blues and grays of the frigid lake and overcast sky, and aerial shots of Helen’s boat amid rugged granite islands emphasize her isolation. There’s an Old Hollywood romanticism to Mischa Chillak’s music, underscoring the noirish elements in Nadda’s subdued and intimate thriller, where regret is as deadly as a firearm.