Laura (Julia Roberts) is married to Martin (Patrick Bergin), a batterer. She knows if she runs away he’ll find her, so she fakes her own death by pretending to drown and starts a new life in a small town far away. Her next-door neighbor Ben (Kevin Anderson) helps her learn to trust and love safely, and things are just about perfect. Until Martin finds out she’s alive and tracks her down.
I’m not a huge Julia Roberts fan, but she gives a good performance. I like how in the scenes with Martin she shows how Laura wears a mask for him—smiling when he’s looking at her and angry when he’s not paying attention. Roberts’s hair also does a good job—it symbolizes Laura’s lifestyle. When Laura’s with Martin it’s flat and reined in, usually over her shoulder. It’s really long and looks like a pain in the ass to take care of. Then the night she leaves him she cuts it. A few scenes later it’s wild and curly, and even when she has it tied back, it looks free.
The film could be read as a statement about gender equality. In addition to the beatings, Martin is a control freak, dictating how Laura keeps the house, what she cooks, whether she works, and even what she wears. She’s the clichéd housewife; when she’s not doing domestic chores, she’s arranging flowers. Laura escapes him and gets her own house, where she’s free to be a little messy and love a guy who’s kind and sensitive and makes pot roasts and has one of the least threatening jobs ever: drama teacher. In their relationship they’re well-matched, but Laura is also powerful. When Martin shows up, Ben does little besides get beaten up. Laura saves herself.
The movie is extremely predictable, but not without tension, for example when Laura suspects Martin’s in the house and searches for signs of his prissy towel hanging; she at first finds nothing, then suddenly her cupboard is rearranged. For me the scariest scene is when Laura’s blind mother is knitting, and drops her needle. She feels around for it, and we see Martin’s shoe. He’s been standing over her without her (or us) knowing he’s there, and he has this horrible intense look of hatred on his face.
Overall the dialogue is decent and there are no major plot holes. Check it out if you want something creepy without sleaze—you know, when a woman can take a bath without showing her boobs or getting hacked up.