The shores up along Maine and through Nova Scotia are gorgeous, where the closer you get to the coastline -- populated by jagged rocks, crashing waves, and rustic port-side towns -- the more eerily beautiful their distinct traits become. It's a good thing too, because location becomes one of only a few defining elements within Syfy's supernatural caper-a-week series Haven, very loosely inspired by Stephen King's novel "The Colorado Kid". Unmistakably an invention that capitalizes on the current rush of mysterious sci-fi whodunits, this low-energy exploration of peculiar occurrences uses its locale as an integral character, capturing the tight-knit quaintness of a secretive town against unassumingly hypnotic coastal shots. Even when the series sags into a middling and conventional imitation of the formula, from routine eureka discoveries to eccentric character drama, the sufficient mystery exudes an atmosphere that casts a faintly alluring spell over those who maintain patience with the show's familiarity.
The blueprint it follows won't surprise anyone with an eye for the genre, though; as unassuming out-of-town FBI agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose) learns the ropes of the paranormal, Haven develops relationships within the procedural mystery-solving between bizarre metaphysical puzzles. Audrey travels to Haven, Maine (the show's actually shot through Nova Scotia) to investigate a peculiar case, which unintentionally drags her into the world of the unknown once she learns about the recently-returned "Troubles" that once plagued the area -- a series of unexplainable incidents that range from murderous shadows and shape-shifters to the instantaneous rotting of vegetation and animals. Yet the FBI agent feels a curious draw to the town and its bizarre history, heightened once she spots a photograph in-town of a woman who's her spitting image, potentially the mother she never knew. Audrey sets up shop in Haven to make heads and tails of both the phenomenon and the photograph, while delving into the network of secretive but convivial citizens.
Eventually Audrey develops relationships with a stoic, intense police officer, Nathan (Lucas Bryant), and a rascally partly-legal "importer" Duke (Eric Balfour), both with their fair share of history in the town. Due to The Troubles' previous stronghold over Haven, Nathan lost every ounce of physical sensation in his body, rendering him unable to feel everything from a knife slicing his hand to a simple kiss. His disconnect from tangible feeling makes him standoffish yet cordial with the townsfolk, creating a unique dynamic with Audrey as his partner when they soldier through Haven's paranormal cases. Duke, on the other hand, works his flirty impishness on Audrey, serving as an off-color informant to the modicum of scandalous activity around town. As expected, Nathan and Duke knock heads at any chance they get, yet there are also a few hints that suggest a deeper history between the two, chiefly around Nathan's condition. They're not a complex trio -- a familiar collage of archetypes -- yet Emily Rose, Lucas Bryant, and Eric Balfour bring enough charm and validity to the table to earn surface-level inquisitiveness.
In the midst of Audrey's budding relationships with the townsfolk, enduring territoriality from her beaus and some lighthearted foreigner-rooted jabs from the yokels, Haven discovers new curiosities to investigate within each episode. While there's something inherently enticing about the quick dose of peculiarity at the start of each one, the construction and momentum built underneath freely borrow from the likes of The X-Files and Fringe and, in the process, do little to mask the roots of its inspiration. Audrey and Nathan's visits to crime scenes insistently mimic the mechanics of an off-kilter police/detective procedural, where they interview witnesses and pinpoint visual clues -- both reasonable and enigmatic -- and then attach them to what they know about the town, weaving long-winded clarification about the faux-scientific or mystical roots that complicate their case. They billow towards an invigorating climax full of double-edged justifications and humanization, garnished at the end with a dash of banter between Audrey and one of her acquaintances.
Only the doses of strangeness aren't as shrewdly abstract or attention-grabbing as other paranormal sci-fi procedurals, and ultimately neglect to draw the same caliber of attention. Instead of riding a line between feasible and infeasible science or playing to common mythological lore -- such as pyrokinetics, mystical healers, or visitors from another planet -- the series dishes out wildly abnormal occurrences that have no real rationalization, gearing towards "fiction" far before "science". It has fun with its quandaries, though, especially the arty ones; "Sketchy" zeroes in on an artist who can turn their drawings into voodoo doll-level damage inflictors, while "Harmony" uses the soothing and maddening aura of music for a more directly evocative purpose. Yet when the time comes for Audrey and Nathan to pull back the curtain and explain these curios, all the Haven citizens can do is spin creative gibberish either about the way the Troubles affect them individually or their motivations, which renders the conclusions into void cappers.
Haven itself does become a bizarre locale worth exploring as a result of the odd occurrences, though, just alluring enough to hold attention within each unspooling disposable mystery. Every eerie case Audrey stumbles upon reveals morsels about the town's framework, from the farmers growing organic crop because it's "where the money's at" to a small mental health asylum, and it achieves an effect not unlike Dale Cooper's sleuthing around Twin Peaks or the history coursing underneath Mystic Falls in The Vampire Diaries. While the events themselves might not crest with ingenuity, the demeanor of a seaside town willing to bridle its secrets creates its own moody impressions, especially with foggy lighthouses and craggy shores as the backdrop for an out-of-towner investigating her mysterious roots. And even once Haven digs deeper into its mysteries and arrives at a rather peculiar cliffhanger, following an uptick in momentum, it's still the slight magnetism the enigmatic atmosphere generates that'll potentially draw one back to the town's sordid, uneven chronicles.
Video and Audio:
The slate of thirteen episodes look rather good in Entertainment One's series of AVC encodes, capturing the Nova Scotia setting with a shrewd eye for its natural beauty. Crashing waves hit the rough, jagged rocks frequently in Haven, while a broad array of wood and stone textures pop up project admirably through the town and seaside. Some rougher digital grain crops up in darker sequences, a little heavier than the film-based photography should probably look, while an overall filtered disposition pulls the visual flow down a few pegs. However, the focus on accurate flesh tones and the densely-contrasted textures look smart enough in HD, likely accurate to the broadcast's aims with the level of clarity and range of motions.
A set of DTS HD Master Audio tracks adorn the visual treatments, though they're fairly unassuming tracks that merely sustain the sound design. Vocal delivery can sound a bit thin from the front channels, while only a few scant ambient effects stretch to the rear channels, mostly capturing the echoes from voices and musical cues. The meat of the sound design -- crashing waves, creaking wood, and other natural sound effects -- matches well enough with the scattering of high- and low-pitched dialogue, making marginal but suitable use of the lower-frequency channel. Only English and English SDH subtitles are available with each episode.
Commentaries arrive with ten of the thirteen episodes, with a few episodes -- "Welcome to Haven" and "Ball and Chain" -- containing two tracks. Sam Ernst stands at the helm of most of the tracks, and he carries plenty of enthusiasm for his show. As to be expected, the greater number of cast and crew members populating the tracks, the rowdier and more jovial the content, but the quieter moments reveal elements about pick-up shoots, what's computer generated and not, and what was filmed on-stage and live. It's great to hear Ernst and his actors and producer talking a bit about having the series picked up for a second season in the final commentary, while discussing color timing a bit and editing, re-editing, tightening and re-adding content for the finale. Most of these tracks stay vibrant enough to carry bits and pieces of insight through the conversational tones, as well as flashing into bits of the secrets that they knew and didn't know along with the revelations.
The bulk of the supplements arrive on Disc Four, which includes a series of featurettes and other supplements. Welcome to Haven (18:13, HD AVC) branches out from some general history behind adapting Stephen King's entry in the Hard Case Crime series of novels, as well as how Emily Rose was almost dismissed as being "too pretty" for the role and how Eric Balfour was drawn to the role because it sounds a little like "Han Solo on a boat". They also talk about filming in Nova Scotia, just outside of Halifax, and how they're going for a lo-fi aesthetic for a fishing village. VFX of Haven (5:07, HD AVC) briefly touches on the wider-than-anticipated amount of digital effects for the series, while >Mythology of Haven (6:00, HD AVC) delves into the well-thought secrets buried underneath the series built around Audrey -- and how the writers and creators could potentially have 100 episodes of content in their noggins. A series of six cool Video Blogs (19:13, SD MPEG-2) have also been tacked on, along with a trio of Cast Interviews (6:42, HD AVC) with Emily Rose, Lucas Bryant, and Eric Balfour. To cap things off, we've also got a Season One Trailer (1:25, SD MPEG-2) and a glimpse at Season Two (4:48, HD AVC).
Those on the hunt for a episodic supernatural mystery will find a suitable one with Haven, though the intrigue it generates within the Stephen King-inspired environment runs on lower steam and treks along a familiar path. Still, the Nova Scotia-shot scenery proves a welcome backdrop for each eerie mystery, which slowly sketches out the quaint fishing town's curiosities through each disposable "affliction" that befalls its citizens. It's a slight but sprightly take on well-tread material that owes a lot to its setting and the anticipation in finding out what the town's all about, but only really worthy of a Rental.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site