The Secrets We Keep, 2020.
Directed by Yuval Adler.
Starring Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Chris Messina, Amy Seimetz, Victoria Hill, Lucy Faust, David Maldonado, Ritchie Montgomery, Ed Amatrudo, Jeff Pope, Miluette Nalin, Frank J. Monteleone, Jackson Dean Vincent, and Madison Paige Jones.
In post-WWII America, a woman, rebuilding her life in the suburbs with her husband, kidnaps her neighbor and seeks vengeance for the heinous war crimes she believes he committed against her.
To say that The Secrets We Keep is a standard psychological thriller about sexual trauma would be a fair assessment albeit one that does not do justice as to the reason the film works. Directed by Yuval Adler (the Israeli filmmaker’s third feature-length effort, this time co-writing alongside Ryan Covington who makes his narrative debut), the plot, while concerned with the truth behind what has happened within the mystery it presents, never morphs into schlocky territory that could be interpreted as making light or gross fun out of horrific and potentially triggering subject matter. It’s even more fixated on the characterization side of things, exploring how the titular secrets have affected the past and how the cast at the center must move forward with the knowledge of old, perspective-altering baggage dug up. There’s definitely an exciting climax that will appease those looking for genre thrills, but the script (aside from rushing its ending and occasionally having a convenient moment of idiocy from law enforcement or other supporting characters) stays rooted in psychological torment.
And when you have the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, playing your tortured female soul, the crew is in business before even rolling the cameras. During a random day at the park playing with her son, Maja (Noomi Rapace) is startled by a voice from afar, as if she remembers it hauntingly. It’s the kind of shock to the system real survivors have told me about, turning to stone whenever there is even the slightest sonic evidence that their abuser might be nearby. Maja is visibly rattled but does not freeze up. Instead, she continues to follow the man while keeping her distance, all as her facial expressions evoke that this is clearly someone she knows that has previously done her wrong.
The man happens to be Joel Kinnaman playing a character named Carl or Stephen. We don’t know, but the dark memory has risen to the surface so overwhelmingly that Maja compulsively kidnaps him (by luck or coincidence, he is new to the neighborhood only living two blocks away) and ties him into a chair down in their basement, much to the consternation of her medically inclined husband Lewis (Chris Messina), who until this point is unaware that Maja has ever gone through such a traumatic experience.
That’s not all Lewis doesn’t know, as Maja reveals more about her family and the post-World War II circumstances that led her to cross paths with him, inevitably starting a family of their own. Meanwhile, this former Nazi and rapist or innocent Swedish immigrant denies all of Maja’s accusations. Certain that she has the right man, even against Lewis increasingly becoming doubtful while still supporting his wife nonetheless, Maja decides to further bind her own moral compass befriending and getting close to the man’s wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their young daughter who happens to be the same age as her son.
Quickly, it becomes a nuanced game of who could be telling the truth, who could be lying, who could be in on the lies, and a study of how the secrets affect everyone moving forward. There’s clever photography symbolizing that Lewis doesn’t know Maja as well as he thinks he does, whereas Rachel settles into the realization that she doesn’t know much about the man she married either. The leading ladies carry the film emotionally, whether it’s Noomi Rapace ramping her actions up to extremes to get a confession or Amy Seimetz who, despite whatever may be true or not true regarding this man accused of horrible crimes, complicates the scenario with her restrained grieving getting across that he is still a loving husband and father. There are also fragmented, visually chrome flashbacks planting the idea that Maja could be remembering everything wrong, as her recollection of the event is not whole. Credit also goes to Joel Kinnaman who gives arguably his best performance to date and is probably more suited to drama than repeated attempts at making him a blockbuster star.
It still leads to a predictable outcome and never really emerges as something incredible that needs to be rushed out and seen (especially during a global health crisis), but The Secrets We Keep has enough of a psychological backbone and strong performances elevating the basics. There is also a surprise during the climax that is grounded in character development rather than pulling the rug out from underneath viewers for shock value. It’s a final exchange that should spark a dialogue on revenge and accountability. The real secret is that the film succeeds in overcoming its simplistic surface plot and genre trappings.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com