Readers who are familiar with my work may know that I have a mild obsession with Roman Polanski’s 1994 film Death and the Maiden, which was adapted from a play of the same name. I have referenced it many times throughout the years; I consider the Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley starrer to be a masterclass of suspense. And so, you can imagine my confliction when it came to The Secrets We Keep, a new film that teeters on the verge of plagiarism.
Set some 15 years after the Second World War, Maja (Noomi Rapace) and her doctor husband Lewis (Chris Messina) live a happy life in suburban America. Upon believing she’s seen the NAZI officer who raped and tortured her during the war, she kidnaps him and holds him captive in their basement. Insisting that she’s got the wrong guy, the man – Thomas (Joel Kinnaman) – refuses to confess to his crimes, which leaves Lewis uncertain of where the truth lies.
That synopsis, in almost every detail, is that of Death and the Maiden, and perhaps if The Secrets We Keep had acknowledged its imitation, I might have accepted it with less resentment. Having said that, in fairness to those who may not have seen Polanski’s film, I will do my best to set my emotions aside.
The story is obviously one of genuine intrigue, and if you can imagine films like The Girl Next Door, Blue Velvet and Apt Pupil intercepting then you will have a good idea of the overall tone. That is to say that the film’s vibrant, sunny surface blankets a very dark and sinister underbelly.
Alas, as Maja tortures her hostage and Thomas struggles to comprehend the situation, the audience is given little substance to connect with. The story’s themes are certainly weighty, yet the meat within the drama is missing.
The performances, too, aren’t quite what they should be. Rapace – who ought to relish such material since her starring role in The Millennium Trilogy – fails to connect with her character’s distress and offers up what comes across as a forced and wooden performance. There is no conviction to her actions – and the same can be said for Messina’s performance. As a loving and devoted husband, he hits all of the right notes, but as a confused and distraught partner, he lacks sincerity. Kinnaman’s turn is equally lacklustre, with no dimension provided to his dilemma.
Unlike the ’94 picture, there is no suspense on deploy and the edgier components of the backstory are neglected. There is little reason for the viewer to care, and the interaction between characters lacks depth. Where is the probing enquiry, or the distraught loss of all senses?
I cannot even concede that the production value is of merit, because aside from a few Terrence Malick-inspired rays of sunlight shining through treetops, The Secrets We Keep is almost monotone. The transition between suburban streetscapes and basement dwellings is about as interesting as the film gets, and I cringe to think about the lazily constructed flashback sequences, which feel as though they were reshot during post-production.
The Secrets We Keep is an uninspired carbon copy of a much better film. Unassuming movie-goers may latch on to the compelling synopsis, but ought to be disappointed with the lack of substance within.
In Australia, ‘The Secrets We Keep’ began a limited theatrical release on September 17th and is available to rent via Foxtel Store from Oct. 21st. In the US, the film began a limited cinema run on Sept. 16th before it opens on VOD on Oct. 16th.