While superhero movies and gross-out comedies might occupy the top spots at the box office, a locally produced TV movie shines a light on a much more serious subject.
Addressing the problem of cyberbullying, which has become alarmingly prevalent in high schools thanks to things like cell phones and social media websites, “Nowhere Safe,” which premiered on UPTV in October and will be shown again on Jan. 9, provides a welcome alternative for families wanting a break from Hollywood fluff while also teaching some important principles.
The film stars Danielle Chuchran as Ashley Evans. The victim of a cyberbullying plot at her previous high school, Ashley and her drama teacher mom (Natasha Henstridge) are now trying to start over fresh in a new town. With the help of an eccentric history teacher (Jamie Kennedy) and some new friends, Ashley begins to open up again — but, as she soon learns, with cyberbullying, nowhere is completely safe.
As if the mountains weren’t enough of a giveaway, “Nowhere Safe” was shot entirely in Utah. Audiences will recognize familiar places like Hill Air Force Base, the Castle Amphitheater in Provo and Pleasant Grove High School, where a big part of the film takes place.
Despite the fact that the two out-of-towners get top billing, the vast majority of the movie’s dramatic weight falls on Chuchran. Not exactly a newcomer to the world of moviemaking — at 21 years old, her filmography is already longer than many well-known actors’ — she acquits herself well in the role of a high schooler struggling to trust people again.
As her love interest, Nick, James Gaisford is also quite good. He has an effortless quality in front of the camera that is hard to come by, especially in actors of his age.
Of course, even ignoring the obvious budget restraints of a movie like this, nobody is going to confuse this for a Hollywood production. That’s a criticism in some ways, but mostly a good thing.
On the one hand, the script is at times a little heavy-handed with its sincere-to-a-fault, feel-good message about standing up to bullies. This is especially true of the final third, which feels like something more suited to the Hallmark Channel than, say, “Dead Poets Society,” with which it otherwise bears some similarities. The film also indulges in some unfortunate clichés of the high school movie genre, such as classifying every character according to one-dimensional stereotypes.
But while it’s easy to nitpick, that doesn’t take away from the fact that it portrays a subject that is all but completely overlooked in mainstream movies, showing the damaging effects of cyberbullying in a way that will resonate with audiences of nearly any age.
As others have noted, “Nowhere Safe” is a film that is ideal for showing how small, seemingly harmless jokes and pranks can have a devastating effect on someone’s life, both in and out of school.
It also teaches an important principle: that “getting back” at a bully isn’t the only option.
These are good enough reasons to overlook some of the film’s shortcomings.
Parents will also appreciate the mild content. Given the subject matter, it would have been easy to include crude language or unnecessary sexual content, but the filmmakers managed to present everything in such a way that it is suitable for younger viewers.
“Nowhere Safe” was awarded the Dove Foundation’s “Family Friendly” seal and has received praise from anti-bullying organizations.
It is available on Blu-ray and DVD and for download on various websites.
Jeff Peterson is a native of Utah Valley and studied humanities and history at Brigham Young University. Along with the Deseret News, he also contributes to the film discussion website FilmInquiry.com.