“Whatever your haven is, it’s your responsibility to protect it,” says director Frankie Flowers. With the release of “Haven” in theaters this week, Flowers hits a jackpot in his first major full-length film.
Shot entirely in the West Indies’ Cayman Islands, the movie’s gorgeous, tranquil setting proves to be anything but a haven for corrupt businessman Carl Ridley (Bill Paxton). Upon his hurried arrival to the island, with the Feds in pursuit and one million dollars taped to his stomach, Ridley joins and fuels a world always on the brink of chaos.
Ridley’s distressed teenage daughter Pippa (Agnes Bruckner) pains over the sudden departure from their Floridian home and suddenly finds her way into the turbulent gang-like party scene with Cayman native Fritz (Victor Rasuk) at her side.
Tossed into the fray too are forbidden lovers Shy (Orlando Bloom) and Andrea (Zo? Saldana). Their story of illicit love soon interconnects with the Ridley family tale of corruption and teen angst, turning the islands from a haven to a dangerously flawed paradise.
Filmed in 29 days by an up-and-coming director of only 26-years-old, “Haven” makes an epic name for Caribbean filmmaking. In fact, writer/director Flowers grew up in the Cayman Islands. His inspiration for the movie developed through personal experiences, stories from friends and passed-on tales of sorrow and peril from around the islands. “Haven” effectively illustrates Cayman life in its richest, most cultural, and yet devastating state.
Unique cinematography is what makes the “Haven” experience so enrapturing. Quick angle changes, documentary-like movements, and extensive use of the “close-up” view create a sense of mystery and confusion, causing audiences to feel wonderfully trapped in the chaotic Cayman world. Flowers also plays with non-linear time, in ways comparable to movies like “Pulp Fiction” and “Crash.”
But it brings new innovation to this style, beginning the film with one plot-line and waiting nearly a half hour before introducing the next. Audiences may be initially confused by the weaving storylines, but when Ridley’s tale connects with that of Shy and Andrea, you are surely left breathless by the results.
Flowers uses a mix of distinguished actors and less-known performers to capture the tense emotion of each characterization. To prepare for their roles, the cast merged with Cayman locals, trading off their acting knowledge with the natives’ expertise of the island world. It was a “get down and get dirty” experience filming on the islands, according to Flowers, but one that certainly paid off.
Victor Rasuk particularly illuminates the screen with his portrayal of Fritz. He brilliantly fuses humble sweetness and an outer tough-guy persona, oscillating between affection for Pippa and willful execution of his gang responsibilities.
“I think Victor is going to be one of the great actors of our generation,” praises Flowers. Rasuk’s hard work prior to filming is revealed in his flawless accent and authentic island vibe-a success probably attributed to his undercover immersion in a local high school and time spent hanging out with natives rather than at the production’s hotel.
Of course, you cannot miss the token heart-throb. Deviating from his British stud role in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Bloom truly succeeds as a vibrant but unsettled islander with “raw, animalistic emotion” as described by director Flowers. His character’s behavior provides viewers with initial enchantment and then ultimate horror at the story on the island.
When creating “Haven,” Flowers first wrote a scene that now falls nearly halfway through the film, in which Bloom’s character presents a short narration about his past. This troubled childhood forms the basis of “Haven’s” intent: to demonstrate the rawness of island life and the ferocity that can ensue from even small sparks. It’s “real kids doing real things,” as Flowers puts it, and the film successfully depicts this real fragility and tragedy of the Cayman Islands.
After growing up in the islands, where film was not a dominant entertainment, Frankie Flowers has burst onto the scene with a pure sense of storytelling so unique to today’s film-making. The Cayman Islands may not have been a true haven for the characters of this twisted, captivating tale, but “Haven” is an escape from familiarity that will certainly charm and enlighten audiences.