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Literature / Safe Haven

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Safe Haven is a 2010 Romance novel by Nicholas Sparks. It tells the story of a young woman, Katie, who escapes her abusive ex-husband, Kevin, and relocates to a small North Carolina town. Following her relocation, she begins to fall for Alex, a widowed father with two children. Trouble ensues as Kevin finds her there and plans on killing the two new lovebirds.

The book was adapted to film in 2013, directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel.

The novel and the film contain the following tropes:

  • Abomination Accusation Attack: In a terrifying example, Kevin abuses his authority as a cop to declare Katie/Erin a suspect in first-degree murder, and send out a nationwide alert to police everywhere. When this is discovered, Kevin's boss immediately rips into him and suspends him from the force.
  • Adaptation Distillation
    • In the book, Erin/Katie spends months planning her escape from Kevin, making sure to consider every factor—money, location, time, etc., then spends several weeks on the run before settling in Southport. This is eliminated in the movie, where she flees from him impulsively following yet another argument and immediately heads to Southport.
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    • His method of finding her is changed also. In the book, he himself spends several weeks trying to track her down, giving up after she manages to elude him again, only finding her via an unfortunate coincidence. In the movie, he makes up "Wanted" posters with her name. This fails, but he discovers where she is via coincidence too.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Katie/Erin starts out as blonde in the book and dyes her hair brown, but in the movie, it is backwards: she starts out reddish/brown and dyes it blonde.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Alex's daughter is named Kristen in the novel, Lexie in the film.
  • Age Lift: Alex has gray hair in the novel, indicating that he's in his 40's or even 50's (although he could also be Older Than They Look). In the movie, he's played by then-30-something Josh Duhamel.
  • The Alcoholic: Kevin has always been one before and during his and Erin's marriage, but following Erin's escape, there's hardly a moment in the novel where he isn't drunk and/or drinking. By the end of the novel, the alcohol (coupled with his psychotic fury and determination to punish Erin) turns his thoughts delusional.
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  • Always with You: Jo, Alex's late wife, promises him before her passing that she will always be with him and her children. It's revealed at the end of the novel that Katie's neighbor is Jo herself, or at least her spirit, guiding Katie as she gets closer to Alex and the children.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The bus Katie/Erin takes leaves Boston headed for Atlanta. It would be incredibly odd for such a route to pass through Southport, NC.
  • Attack of the Town Festival: Kevin stalks Katie/Erin through Southport's Fourth of July celebration.
  • The Baby Trap: While driving to find Katie/Erin, Kevin muses that she wouldn't have been able to run away if they had had a child and vows that they'll have one as soon as they reconcile, no doubt to ensure that she can't escape again.
  • Bait-and-Switch
    • The movie opens with Katie/Erin fleeing a house, then fleeing town on a bus, just barely evading Kevin. Her new life in Southport is intercut with scenes of Kevin searching for her and sending out "Wanted" posters identifying her as a murder suspect, and she looks uneasy whenever she spots police officers. All this implies that she's a killer and that Kevin is simply a cop doing his job trying to find her. Until Kevin's supervisor blasts him for his actions, revealing that she's Kevin's abused wife and that's why she's on the run.
    • Also early on in the film, Kevin's search for Katie culminates in him arriving at the same bus station she's at. He stops several buses so he can go in and search them, and at one point goes straight to the back, for a woman who looks just like Katie...but it's not her, and Katie successfully rides away.
    • Katie/Erin and then Lexie are apparently being approached from behind by Kevin, as implied by the use of Murderer P.O.V.. It turns out Katie is being approached by Jo (and in a dream at that), while Lexie is being approached by Katie/Erin, who was looking for her after she wandered off.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Kevin pulls a gun on Katie/Erin, they struggle for it, it gets in between them, goes off. . .and Kevin is the one who has been shot.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Despite being in a desperate hurry to leave town, Katie/Erin managed to give herself a perfect haircut and dye job. She also doesn't have a mark on her, despite a flashback that shows that Kevin slapped her and nearly strangled her before she managed to get away and she's sporting flawless makeup, something highly unlikely to be the top priority of a frightened woman fleeing an abusive husband.
  • Caught in the Rain: But of course. It's a Nicholas Sparks movie, isn't it? Unusually, aside from the standard romantic version, we get a dramatic one also—Kevin standing in the bus station parking lot after Erin/Katie has managed to elude him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Kevin's water bottle that he carries with him everywhere. His boss makes note of it while he's chewing him out and discovers that it's full of vodka.
  • Chekhov's Gunman
    • Erin/Katie's elderly neighbors the Feldman's. In the book, it's mentioned that they're the only two people she's been able to form a friendship with, thanks to Kevin's controlling, possessive nature (and she's even had to keep this hidden from him). When their daughter visits Kevin to ask if she'll be attending her mother's funeral, she mentions her resemblance to a sister who died when she was very young. With this, Kevin is able to deduce Erin/Katie's new identity and track her down.
    • In the movie, Kevin recalls that the handwriting of a recipe Erin/Katie used was identical to that on the same neighbor's mail, meaning that the woman was lying when she claimed not to know her. With this, he hovers around the woman's house, knowing that it's only a matter of time before something happens to tip him off to her location. Sure enough, she eventually calls the woman to assure her that she's all right, and Kevin promptly finds out where she is.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A villainous version. Kevin uses his police skills and contacts to track Erin/Katie in both mediums—in the movie, it's to make up wanted posters with her picture, while in the book, it's to deduce that she couldn't have gotten very far because she didn't have much money, thus allowing him to track her down in Philadelphia. As well, since she could have only found work as a waitress, he resolves to stake out every restaurant in town until she shows up at one, and sure enough, she does. He finds her in Southport much the same way.
  • Darker and Edgier: To most Sparks works, with Domestic Abuse being a theme. And even though a character dying is par for the course, this one is outright killed, albeit in self-defense.
  • Dead All Along: One of the minor characters, Jo, is Alex's late wife. She's appeared as a sort of spirit to Katie to give her advice and guide her.
  • Dead Man Writing: At the end, Alex gives Erin/Katie a letter from his late wife, addressed "To The Woman My Husband Loves". In the box he takes the letter from, we see several others, addressed to her children and her husband himself. Aside from being a very touching Passing the Torch type of missive, with lines like "I'm so glad he's found you", this is when we get The Reveal that the woman who befriended her upon her arrival to town was actually the late wife's ghost.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: In the book. Katie steals the social security number of the late daughter of her neighbor, knowing that she'll need a new identity to make a life somewhere else. Unfortunately, the minute she uses it to apply for a driver's license, Kevin discovers where she is.
  • Domestic Abuse: Katie (at the time, Erin) has been in a very physically and emotionally abusive marriage with her husband, Kevin. His police skills, coupled with her having nowhere else to go, has kept her trapped for a long time. Finally, she manages to escape from him, and the novel begins with her starting a new life in Southport, and she eventually finds a second love with Alex. Unfortunately, Kevin continues to hunt her down.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Kevin, throughout his portions of the novel—he insists to himself that he's been a good husband to Erin/Katie because he's given her everything she wanted—a house, furniture, etc., conveniently overlooking that he hit her on a regular basis for any little thing. Then, while driving to North Carolina to get her, Kevin rambles about how once they're back together, they'll have a baby, he'll go back to work, and they'll be a happy, beautiful family. Never mind that he's sure to be arrested or at the very least fired for professional misconduct (telling the mother of a murder victim to shove the killer down a flight of stairs), that Katie/Erin left him because of his constant abuse, and that he's planning to achieve their reunion by tying her up and putting her in the trunk of his car. Not only that, his delusions of a happy reunion are interspersed with simultaneous thoughts of killing her.
  • Due to the Dead: Josh to his mom. He hates it when his father goes into her room for any reason, and in general is more standoffish to Katie than his sister. The shop burning down at the end upsets him for the same reason, as he feels he's lost yet another part of his mother.
  • Dye or Die: Erin knows that to escape Kevin, she must look as unrecognizable as possible. Thus, she chops off her long hair and dyes it brown (blonde in the movie).
  • Empathic Environment: In the book, the stifling and intense heat coincides with Kevin's murderous demeanor as he stalks Katie/Erin through the carnival.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Chinatown: When Erin/Katie goes to Philadelphia, she heads here in search of cheap rents and easy jobs.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Averted in the book, where it's described that it took nearly a year of saving for Erin/Katie to have the money to run away, after which she had to stay in cheap motels, barely eat and save every penny in order to get by. Played straight in the movie, where despite fleeing Kevin on the spur of the moment (rather than the long planning it took in the book), she has the funds for a bus ticket and to rent and fix up a cottage. While one can partly Hand Wave that her neighbor loaned her some money, it's unlikely that it was enough for all that.
  • Gilligan Cut: While out on the lake in the middle of a beautiful and sunny day, Katie/Erin asks Alex "Do you feel that?". He says "No", but the next shot is of them struggling to bring the boat in in the midst of a rainstorm.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: One of the many things that makes Kevin so dangerous is his unpredictable fury that can come at the drop of the hat. This is evident in the film after their romantic dinner turns ugly when Erin gets on him for drinking (in actuality, innocently asking if he was done). In the book, he beats Erin for leaving her sunglasses by the pool, leaving food stains in fridge, running errands on his day off...
  • Hypocrite: Kevin, in the novel, given his near constant Bible-quoting, all while he's an abusive husband. In particular, he likes to quote Ephesians 5:22, "Wives, submit to your husbands [...]", while conveniently disregarding the second following verse, "Husbands, love your wives [...]"
  • Important Haircut: Katie/Erin cuts and dyes her hair in order to disguise her appearance when she flees from Kevin. She keeps it that way as a sign of her new start.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: Erin/Katie gives herself a salon-worthy haircut and dye job while fleeing from Kevin. While one could stretch their imagination enough to assume that she could pull off the haircut, to dye one's hair from brunette to blonde takes considerable skill and time. There's no way she could have pulled off the perfect job we see at all, much less in the brief time frame given. (This problem arises from the fact that the film is pulling the aforementioned Adaptation Dye-Job to accommodate the blonde actress playing the role; in the book she goes from blonde to brunette, much easier for even a non-professional to do).
  • In Medias Res: The book beings with Erin/Katie having been in Southport for several weeks. Only as she gets to know Alex and trusts him enough to tell him her story do we get flashbacks describing her life in Boston and her escape plans.
  • Irony: Kevin and Erin met when he saved her from being raped by a group of thugs. She told him that he made her feel "safe". . . and she ends up anything but that, suffering through four years of an abusive marriage.
  • Kill It with Fire: A crazed Kevin sets the store/house on fire with gasoline from the jerry can.
  • Marital Rape License: A variation in the book when Kevin makes advances to Erin soon after hitting her in order to make amends. She goes along with it only to avoid further violence and avoid making him suspicious about her plans to escape, but it's pretty awful to read how she pretends that her moans of pain are actually of pleasure and how relieved she is when he finally stops.
  • Missed Him by That Much
    • Inverted. While walking to work one morning, Erin/Katie spots an unfamiliar car on the street and stops short as she realizes it's Kevin. She instantly turns around to return to her motel, get her things, and flee again.
    • Played straight from Kevin's point of view, as later on in the book, the writer confirms that it was indeed Kevin waiting for her and it's only that he didn't look in his rearview mirror why he didn't spot her.
    • Also in the movie, when she barely evades him at the bus station.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After Alex tells Erin/Katie to leave town and never return, he has one of these.
    • Kevin of all people continually has this in the novel, acknowledging that she left him because she was fed up with the abuse. He flip-flops between genuine remorse and wanting to atone to wanting to kill her.
  • Never My Fault: In the book. Every time Kevin admits that Erin/Katie left him because she was fed up with the abuse, he almost immediately undermines his regret by blaming it on her for being stupid and selfish. He even blames his alcoholic downfall and subsequently being suspended from his job on her.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Josh isn't too thrilled about Alex dating Erin/Katie, though Lexie loves her.
  • Pillow Pregnancy: Erin/Katie uses her duffel bag to employ this as part of her disguise when she flees.
  • Police Are Useless
    • In the book, Erin/Katie mentions having called the police at least once, only for them to talk her out of filing a complaint. But averted later on when Kevin's boss suspends him both because of his drinking and his actions while investigating a case—telling the grieving mother of a victim to shove his killer down a flight of stairs.
    • In the movie, Erin/Katie's "Wanted" poster is barely looked at when posted, then almost immediately covered over. Heaven forbid it had been true—the local cops would have been completely unaware of a friggin murder suspect roaming around town.
  • Properly Paranoid: From the moment she arrives in Philadelphia, Erin/Katie is certain that it's only a matter of time before Kevin figures out where she's gone and comes to find her. To that end, she frequently moves and switches jobs. The book makes note about how this keeps her vigilant about her safety and it pays off when she spots an unfamiliar car on the street. Without any justification, she instantly—and correctly—suspects that it's Kevin lying in wait for her.
  • Race for Your Love: A villainous version when Kevin races to the bus station to catch Erin/Katie before she can leave, and a typical one when Alex races to the ferry to stop her from doing the same thing.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: When the police chief realizes that Kevin has illegally declared Erin/Katie as a murder suspect, he immediately calls Kevin out and suspends him.
  • Recycled Premise
    • There are many, possibly unintentional similarities between this film and Sleeping with the Enemy—namely the opening sequence of an abused wife fleeing her abusive husband on a bus in the middle of a rainstorm, having cut her hair to disguise her appearance and said husband eventually finding her in a picturesque small town, then stalking her through a local celebration.
    • In the book, a scene where Kevin slaps Erin/Katie as she's preparing dinner, then almost immediately consoles her with sex, which she cringes through both because she's in pain and because she basically hates him by this point is also very similar to one in the former film.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Averted in the film. The adaptation stands out as one of, if not the only, Nicholas Sparks film to feature any sort realistic speech patterns. There's a lot of stammering, repetition of words, talking over each other, and natural delivery. This is notably different from the book, which is a pretty standard Sparks novel.
  • Relationship Upgrade: A slight case. Katie/Erin and Alex sleep together in the movie, but not the book—she never feels ready, and isn't comfortable technically committing adultery, as she's still legally married to Kevin.
  • Scenery Porn: Southport, North Carolina, is gorgeous.
  • Second Love: Katie/Erin to Alex. She's the first woman he's seriously considered dating after the death of his wife. He is arguably this to her as well.
  • Shout-Out: Erin/Katie and Alex taking a rowboat through the woods and having to cut their outing short because it begins raining is virtually identical to Noah and Allie's scene in The Notebook.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: In the novel, at least. Kevin is able to track Erin/Katie down when basically everyone he shows her picture to—the ticket agent, the bus driver, hotel managers, employers—remembers her because she was so pretty.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Mrs. Feldman dies in the book, but not the movie. Conversely, her husband is very frail in the movie while having no health problems in the novel.
  • Spirit Advisor: Jo's ghost in question serves in this role. She appears to Katie when she arrives in town, advising her not just to stay, but to get closer with Alex, Lexie, and Josh.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: When Alex thinks Erin/Katie is a murderer and confronts her about it, she doesn't attempt to explain herself and instead decides to run away from town, declaring she does not blame him for hating her.
  • Title Drop: Slightly. Throughout the book, several references are made to Katie/Erin's need to feel "safe", and in the movie, she calls her neighbor to let her know "I've ended up somewhere safe."
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom
    • In the book, the Feldman's daughter, who tells Kevin about Erin/Katie's friendship with her parents and how much she resembled her late sister. Kevin promptly breaks into their house, finds the girl's personal information, and uses it to track her down.
    • In the movie, Erin/Katie herself, who calls the woman to assure her that she's all right. Kevin deduces her location from the caller ID.
  • Villainous BSoD: Kevin steadily breaks down over the course of the story.
  • Wham Shot: The picture of Alex's wife: she's Jo, Katie's neighbor.