You can never underestimate the love of a mother for her child.
Endlessly talented and impossibly beautiful power couple Nicole Ari Parker and Boris Kodjoe starred in this exciting thriller, Safe Room, which definitely had us holding our breaths.
Not only does Parker bring heart as Lila, and her hubby and Station 19 star, Kodjoe, deserves praise for his directorial debut, but Nik Sanchez’s performance as Ian Jackson is without a shadow of a doubt one of the highlights of the film.
Kodjoe cutting his teeth into directing is a treat, and it goes to show how years spent in front of the camera can often serve as an asset to those who like to step behind it.
His eye for detail and using that to better tell a story or give “the story behind the story” provided unspoken context, mainly through the first half of the film that emphasized Lila and Ian’s life and grief after the loss of the man of their house. It was a fantastic way of showcasing Ian’s autism before verbal confirmation.
The latter half of the film had its fair share of unorthodox camera angles and shots with an artistic flair as the drama ratcheted up a notch.
I love how the pandemic doesn’t affect the quality of some work, but you can sense the measures that many make to work within that, and no more than a film titled “Safe Room” where the entire movie takes place at the same location. It’s relatively tight filming, but with an edgy plot and great actors, you don’t bat your eyes twice at it.
That level of creativity and originality always impresses me, and Safe Room was both exciting and heartfelt.
At the center of this film was Lila and Ian’s relationship, and honestly, if nothing else drew you in, it was that dynamic and the portrayal of it by Parker and Sanchez.
As someone whose youngest brother has Asperger’s, there was this instant draw to Ian and some understanding for Lila and how their relationship works.
Again, Sanchez’s performance impressed, and this is where perfect casting came into play.
The authenticity Sanchez brings to the role of Ian as someone who himself is on the spectrum cannot be duplicated. It’s such a rarity, and it’s the best thing Safe Room has going for it out of the gate.
Too often, the portrayal of characters on the spectrum is so frustratingly one-dimensional and lacks any semblance of nuance. However, there was so much attention to detail here.
Ian’s routines, his methods of calming himself, and a realistic, grounded depiction of his abilities, among many other things, touched me personally and made him this instantly endearing character in whom we invested from the start.
So many moments felt familiar, such as Lila talking Ian through what felt like the Herculean task of retrieving his phone from his safe. She demanded he recite what she expected of him over and over again, so he didn’t forget. He got momentarily distracted in his room with the mess and almost lost his chance at retrieving it.
Lila’s encouraging words for her son as she reminded him that there’s no need to glorify “normal,” his autism made him extraordinary brought tears to the eyes.
And the balance of providing an accurate view of an autistic teen while simultaneously having Lila exploit the common misconceptions about it to their advantage and for their survival was clever. Lila expertly uplifted her son and never made him believe his autism was a weakness or rendered him incapable.
She did this while duping Dom and Rocco into thinking he could not process complex thoughts enough to qualify as a threat.
No, this film wasn’t solely about Ian’s autism, nor was he reduced to his neuroatypical view and navigation of the world. But it’s still such a rarity to see genuine representation mainstream that it’s difficult not to gush about and tip a hat to it when you do.
The overall plot was the usual Lifetime fare, twists, action, and lots of screaming at the television.
Lila was an instantly sympathetic character as a widowed mom in a distinctly bizarre living setup where doors and heat didn’t work despite serving as a smart house.
Seriously, the smart house vibes were great. It’s too bad they didn’t take full advantage of the tech portion of the film more. It wasn’t until three-quarters through the film that Lila and Ian put some of the gadgets to use after acquiring his phone.
Flooding the bathroom where the space heaters were was great, even though it didn’t lead anywhere since Neil saved Rocco from electrocution.
And I loved Ian coming through with tinkering with the comms and fixing them, but they didn’t necessarily lead anywhere advantageous. Even safe rooms have their flaws when what proved to be a sanctuary for Lila and Ian became a death trap once air got sucked out of the room.
Lila’s late husband was this brilliant engineer who tragically died because of a flaw in his self-driving car. Evidently, he influenced Ian greatly and instilled a love of S.T.E.M. within him. The technological theme of engineering was always right there, but they just barely dug into it as much as they could’ve.
Nevertheless, it didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the film and how wrapped up in the drama one became. Everything spiraled spectacularly out of control, and it all stemmed from Ian taking a bit to use his video camera to observe things outside.
An innocent activity placed his and Lila’s life in danger when he saw Rocco brutally murder the neighbor and threaten him the moment she saw him watching. Your heart broke for Ian, who was in such distress and shock after the event that it sparked an episode and required Lila’s soothing until he fell asleep before telling her.
It’s understated, but Ian’s autism worked organically with the storyline, giving a good exploration for things that viewers would often question. It made sense that Ian was distraught enough that he didn’t instantly verbalize what he saw or warn his mother.
And he still never quite found the words for that. Ian’s quirks were tied into the film organically. They added that extra layer of intensity and high stakes with everything that transpired.
The escalation of violence and how Dom, Rocco, and Neil’s situation spiraled out of control played out realistically. It made the film a nail-biter despite its revolved around Lila plotting while inside a room.
Of the antagonists, Dom was most sympathetic as a character and with his feelings about Lila and Ian. For Dom, his intentions were clear. He wanted to rob rich people’s homes, and that was it.
He never anticipated killing people, and as the bodies stacked up and Rocco proved how unhinged and relentless he was, it became too much for him. You almost felt for the man when he reached his breaking point and attempted to walk away, only for Neil to shoot him in the back.
The man was a thief, and he got sucked into some awful things, but he didn’t deserve that.
It’s surprising how long it took him to walk away from Rocco, and if it had been up to him, Lila and Ian would’ve gone about their business as if nothing happened after he destroyed the tape.
It killed him to see any harm come to Lila and Ian. He was the only one with anything that resembled a conscience out of the crew, and he was smart enough to know that murder wasn’t the solution to every problem.
Rocco didn’t seem to get that. The woman was dropping bodies left, right, and center! She had no qualms about killing a kid, and she was pretty much a psychopath. But gosh damn, don’t you just love Drea De Matteo? I can watch that woman in literally anything at all.
She was the most cutthroat and responsible for the majority of the escalation. No one would’ve died if it weren’t for her. The poor neighbor was one thing, but it was a sign of how extreme Rocco was when she murdered that kind police officer who only wanted to help.
But just when you thought Rocco was the ultimate problem, we learned the Neil twist. I can’t say I anticipated that one, so kudos to the film for that shocker. Also, Boris Kodjoe plays a fantastic bad guy. It was especially fun to watch him play the villain against his real-life wife.
He was no less reckless than Rocco, though. It was insane when he shot into a dark room and killed her instead. It was such a risky thing to do when he knew she was searching for Lila and Ian as well.
But the best parts were both Lila and Ian having their heroic moments.
Ian proved countless times that he could rise to the occasion during their experience, and it was beautiful to witness. He succeeded with fixing the intercom and retrieving his phone.
He saved his mother a couple of times (calmed her down, too), and he stabbed Neil with the screwdriver when necessary.
My heart swelled with pride that he held it together so well throughout their ordeal, even when he was in shock. He even had some humorous moments, such as when he reminded his mother that they got into this mess because she didn’t ensure the repairman had his working papers and uniform.
Of course, he was serious about it and didn’t intend it to be a joke, but it’s the blunt nature that one learns to appreciate.
But Lila got her chance to end everything once and for all when she shot Neil. Honestly, good for her. I wonder if the pair can ever truly feel “safe” in their smart house with the safe room after everything they went through.
But by the end, it seems that it didn’t hamper their ability to live in the house. And Ian got into that Space program he was super excited and nervous about, and it doesn’t get better than that.
Safe Room was a thrill ride, which we could anticipate heading into the film. The cast was great, too, making for a fun movie.
And with Nik Sanchez in particular, his chemistry with Parker, and the autism representation, there was an unexpectedly heartfelt aspect of the film that made it stronger and more endearing than imagined.
Over to you, TV Fanatics. Did you love this film? What did you think about it? HIt the comments!
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.