Critics Consensus

Safe's eerie social satire and somewhat sterile stylization is balanced by comedic undertones and an impressive, understated performance from Julianne Moore.



Total Count: 56


Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,456
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Safe Photos

Movie Info

A suburban housewife suddenly finds herself "allergic to the 20th century," in this drama. Carol White is a typical upper-middle class suburban housewife. She lives with her husband and step-son in a lovely home in the San Fernando Valley. She is normal in every way as she socializes with friends, eats right, and keeps a good home. But she does have a nagging cough. The cough keeps getting worse and is followed by nosebleeds and violent seizures. The doctors are puzzled but conclude that she, like a growing number, has become hypersensitive to the chemical substances that surround us. Even a whiff of cologne can trigger an allergic reaction in Carol. To find treatment, Carol journeys to New Mexico and enrolls in the Wrenwood Institute, a New Age facility designed for healing people. It is headed by Peter, who promotes self-love.


Julianne Moore
as Carol White
Peter Friedman
as Peter Dunning
Xander Berkeley
as Greg White
Steve Gilborn
as Dr. Hubbard
Peter Crombie
as Dr. Reynolds
Ronnie Farer
as Barbara
Janel Moloney
as Hairdresser
Lorna Scott
as Marilyn
Steven Gilborn
as Dr. Hubbard
as Dry Cleaners Manager
Tim Gardner
as Department Store Dispatcher
Wendy Haynes
as Waitress
Jean Pflieger
as Client's Wife
Brendan Dolan
as Patrolman
John Apicella
as Psychiatrist
Wendy Gayle
as Baby Shower Mother
Cassy Friel
as Baby Shower Child
Frank Dent
as Video Narrator
Beth Grant
as Becky, Auditorium Speaker
Jo Wilkinson
as Listener No. 1
Gerrielani Miyazaki
as Listener No. 2
Edith Meeks
as Patient No. 1
Francesca P. Roberts
as Patient No. 2
Elinor O. Caplan
as Patient No. 3
Julie Burgess
as Aerobics Instructor
Joe Comando
as Exterminator
Mitchell Greenhill
as Accompanist
Ravi Achar
as Wrenwood Instructor
Tricia Dong
as Wrenwood Patient
James Lyons
as Cab Driver
Mitch Greenhill
as Accompanist
View All

News & Interviews for Safe

Critic Reviews for Safe

All Critics (56) | Top Critics (13) | Fresh (48) | Rotten (8)

  • Moore, in a nearly unplayable role, is amazingly vivid and touching; this is a heartbreaking portrait of a woman in full, panicked retreat from life.

    Jun 24, 2013 | Full Review…
  • You'd have to be cranky or blind to deny Haynes' artistry and vision. There's a dark power, a tremor that runs through the movie like the rumble of a secret dread.

    Jun 24, 2013 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • This creepy art movie will stay with you.

    Jul 21, 2010 | Full Review…
  • In a summer of heavyweight action movies and flyweight romantic comedies, I don't think you'll find a more provocative little number than Safe, which creeps under your skin like a rash.

    Jul 6, 2010 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…
  • The audaciousness that marked Todd Haynes' earlier work has been supplanted by self-important preachiness.

    Mar 26, 2009

    Todd McCarthy

    Top Critic
  • The ironic handling of decor and characterisation builds an eerie portrait of the blissed-out West Coast bourgeoisie at their most brainwashed.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Safe

  • Oct 08, 2015
    Safe is a great film for those who enjoy character studies and have an interest in psychology and/or social issues. The style of film is observational, we focus on the lead and witness her struggle against her environment. Whether the environment is natural, artificial, or social is open to question. The film feels, overall, very much open with nuanced performances. It requires some amount of speculative reading into things on the part of the viewer, though I find that interesting. Safe is a slow, but engaging, film with a powerful ending.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 14, 2015
    An intriguing, unsettling look at a naïve, sheltered housewife (Julianne Moore) who becomes very sick, only to have her doctors tell her they have no idea what is wrong with her. When she decides to move to join a group centered on wellness led by a charismatic leader (Peter Friedman), her health continues to plummet. What makes this thing watchable and interesting is director Todd Haynes take on environment and how sometimes where we live and who we surround ourselves with is the true poison to one's overall health. Moore's rock-solid performance anchors this movie throughout its entirety, and it still has a chilling effect on one after the credits roll.
    Dan S Super Reviewer
  • Sep 03, 2013
    Huh, I reckon Sarah Palin really should have watched what she said about the environment, because here she is suffering the consequences of environmental problems, and if you don't get that, well, it doesn't matter, because you're probably not aware of this film enough to be reading this article. If you don't know about "Game Change", then you sure don't know about this early Julianne Moore vehicle, unless, of course, you do know about, and the reason why you're not reading this article is because you find the looks of it so bland that you're just not really bothering to look into it, even though, at it's core, it's a chillingly suspenseful dramatic thriller of intense proportions, or at least that's what the critics say. Seriously though, no place is safe here, as there is no escaping the horrible vengeance of the mighty one we've wronged: ... Mother Nature... or at least that's what this slow, two-hour-long dramatic "thriller" is telling me. No, this film isn't that underwhelming, but environmental messages and Julianne Moore trying to keep from getting sick don't exactly make this film quite as exciting as the "Safe" with Jason Statham, even though this film has been about as watched as 2012's "Safe". Ouch, that's actually kind of harsh, because this film does indeed raise quite the standard in terms of not being seen, and I can't say that I'm surprised, not just because this film was on a mighty low profile when it came out, but because the poster is so unappealing that it looks like some unpolished, amateur photograph. Come to think of it, the way that weird person on the poster in question is walking, coupled with a pretty concealing outfit, makes him look kind of like Bigfoot getting ready to fence, though that doesn't exactly raise the excitement all that much, because even though Bigfoot is cool and all, of all types of sword fighting styles he could be exploring, he's taking up fencing. I can joke all day, but I do actually like this film and found it to be adequately exciting, but the fact of the matter is that what marketing that went behind this project made it appear flawed, and sure enough, this film isn't "safe" from some complaints. The film gives you a little bit of info here and there, plus the effectiveness within the offscreen performances and Julianne Moore's onscreen performance keep you adequately invested in the story of Carol White, but immediate development is mighty lacking, and gradual exposition isn't too much meatier, resulting in considerable underdevelopment that ends up going a longer way than you might think in distancing you from a story which is too minimalist to afford you falling out. Not a whole lot happens throughout this film, as there's only so much to this minimalist story, whose natural shortcomings are considerable enough to perhaps secure the final product as underwhelming, while soften the ground on which compellingness stands enough for sinking even deeper into underwhelmingness to be a serious risk. Needless to say, underdevelopment isn't the way to go if you're trying to compensate for natural shortcomings, and dragging isn't exactly a much better way to go, because no matter how undercooked this film may be, it, at just shy of two hours, takes plenty of time to get fatty around the edges, taking on excess material that, before too long, devolves into repetition, maybe even aimlessness, which is, of course, at its worst when the excessiveness is cleansed of material and left strictly with filler, much of which is of a questionably artistic nature. The film will often follow a more controlled and traditionalist storytelling path, but then take a break to be driven by those long, artistic meditations upon nothingness, and not always organically, suffering from a certain unevenness in narrative style that throws you off about as much as the questionability within the artistic touches themselves. Granted, neither the over-artistry nor the narrative structure inconsistency is all that considerable, it's just that the problems feel emphasized by the atmospheric cold spells, of which there are many, for although the limp spots are rarely, if ever all that dulling, they retard pacing, while thinning out resonance to the point of tainting the film with extended periods of genuine uncompellingness. Were the coldest moments in this film more recurring, as well as backed by greater pacing problems, the final product would have fallen flat, yet as things stand, the film, while saved as decent, is brought dangerously close to the edge of mediocrity by the natural shortcomings, underdevelopment, bloating, unevenness and coldness that nevertheless secure the final product as barely memorable. That being said, as flawed as the film is, when it engages, it really keeps you going, and ultimately stands as decent, with relatively outstanding elements, such as musical ones. Okay, perhaps I'm going a bit too far describing this film's musical elements as outstanding, as Brendan Dolan's and Ed Tomney's score isn't too terribly unique, nor is it all that evenly explored, but it's still among the strongest attributes of the film, having a certain synthesized minimalism that is both refreshingly lovely on a musical level, as well as near-haunting on an atmospheric level. When Dolan's and Tomney's score really delivers, it's near-piercing in its effectiveness, and while I wish I could say that the often atmospherically chilled film is more frequent with its celebration of this stylish original soundtrack, the music that drives this thoughtful thriller is pretty memorable and entertaining, yet isn't the only stylistic touch that ends up doing quite a bit in bringing this thriller to life about as much as it can be. Todd Haynes makes more than a few questionable moves a director, whether when he's establishing a cold atmosphere that is often dulling and sometimes distancing, or when he's breaking a relatively traditionalist narrative style with questionable areas in artistic storytelling, but where Haynes could have gone the way of plenty of independent art filmmakers and driven his vision into flatness, what he does relatively right goes quite a ways, whether when he's playing up such genuinely nifty stylistic choices as a broad framing over tight environments in order to immerse you into a sense of claustrophobia, or when he's somberly drawing on atmospheric chill, not to the point of distancing you with the limp spells that are still more recurring than they probably should be, but just enough to breathe life into intensity. The film's tension is certainly not all the frequent, and when it comes to the surface, it's rarely as haunting as you might hope it would be, but it does arrive if you wait long enough, and it comes with genuine intrigue that reinforces your investment, and therefore draws your attention more towards what meat there is to this subject matter. This story concept is a seriously minimalist one, having too little to it to be all that firmly secured from the dark depths of uncompelling mediocrity, but it's not exactly cleansed of intrigue, boasting unique aspects to thematic depth and storytelling, some of which don't work, with most having a certain juiciness on paper that is brought to life by anything from the strong score work, and highlights to Haynes' direction, to a strong portrayer of a somewhat thinly drawn character. There are pretty good supporting performances throughout this film, but leading lady Julianne Moore, in her second lead role, really carries things, capturing the initial quiet, maybe even slightly awkward comfort of the down-to-earth Carol White character impeccably, then proceeding to explore the intensity and dramatic layers that you might expect from a person who grows more and more fearful for her life as the signs of the thing more-or-less killing her grow more and more ambiguous. As White falls deeper into her unknown disease, Moore compels more thoroughly, until you end up with a lead who is more gripping than the film itself, though that's not to say that this film is completely disengaging, being a mess, but one that has enough highlights to it to stand "safe" from mediocrity, which it still flirts with more than it probably should. To clear things up, development is considerably limited, and that, alongside bloating, questionable moments in artistry, inconsistency in narrative style, and distancing cold spells in atmosphere, leaves you to mediate upon natural shortcomings enough for the final product to run the risk of collapsing into mediocrity, which is ultimately kept at bay enough by genuinely intriguing story concept aspects - done justice by haunting score work, and truly brought to life by highlights in direction, as well as a strong lead performance by Julianne Moore - for Todd Haynes' "Safe" to stand as a barely memorable, but nonetheless adequately engaging dramatic thriller. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Nov 16, 2011
    Unlike Makavejev's female liberation manifesto <i>Montenegro</i> (1981), Haynes makes a strong statement in favor of the less fortunate and most misunderstood. Yet, I feel bold enough to argue that the least thing <i>Safe</i> is, is an ecological commentary against pollution and chemically intolerant people. It's a slowly absorbing feature about an apocalyptic collapse that mankind is pursuing with its current structure. The hous... homemaker is the typical symbol for this. This ain't no <i>Poison</i> (1991) and homosexuality is out of the formula for now, yet it is modern American film direction like it is no longer done. 97/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer

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