Judge Brett Cullum finds this secret strong enough for Japan, but made gross for Americans.
And you thought Friday was "freaky"…
The Secret is an eclectic mess from the start. We have a Swiss director (Vincent Perez, who starred in The Crow: City of Angels) remaking a Japanese movie with American actors for a French film company while on location in Canada. You know it's going to be unruly just from the scattershot international credits. Then you find out the plot is similar to the Nicole Kidman flop Birth, and all hope is dashed. Is this a secret worth knowing?
Facts of the Case
David Duchovny (The X-Files) and Lili Taylor (The Haunting) are the perfect couple with an amazing life. He's an optometrist, she's an amateur photographer, and they live with their teenage daughter (Olivia Thirlby, Juno) in a huge house out in the suburbs. Happy happy, joy joy! The only issue facing them is their daughter has hit her rebellious stage, and she seems distant from both of them.
One fateful day, mom and daughter are in a near fatal car crash, and they end up in the hospital side by side. The girl decides to shuffle off this mortal coil, but somehow mom's soul ends up in her body. Mom dies on the table and the daughter is revived. Mom has all of her own memories, but she's trapped in the body of a teenager. The big question is…Where has the soul of the daughter gone? The rest of the film seeks to somewhat answer this question, and show what it's like for a mother to live as her daughter. There is also the repugnant idea of what the husband will do once he realizes his wife is in his child's body.
My biggest complaint with the The Secret is that it's simply gross to incestually throw a daughter's body in front of her father. While there is never an explicit scene between Duchovny and Thirlby, she does have to leer and make passes at him regularly. It's an icky idea, and yet somehow the marketing tries to pass this one off as more like Ghost than Birth. In reality, it's Freaky Friday taken seriously, never sure if it wants to be a tame thriller or a gag worthy romance.
The Secret is both uneven and preposterous, with a plodding pace and an aftertaste that makes you want to shower the minute it's over. Originally released theatrically in France, it went by the name Si j'etais toi or "I am you." I don't recall it getting much of a stateside showing, and it thankfully passed under my radar.
This classically illustrates where Westerners can go wrong when adapting Asian films. We just don't understand their culture or the cinema they produce. The source material is a Japanese novel and its subsequent film adaptation, Himitsu. That project was billed as a paranormal family drama, and sought to explore the generation gap and the difference between love for a wife and daughter. It was praised for not making a big deal out of the situations or final twist. Director Vincent Perez tries to do the same things with the remake, but he ups the game too much by sensationalizing everything. We find out the daughter has secrets like drug addiction, violent sexual fetishes, and a true contempt for her parents. Everything gets too broad, too obvious, and lacks any sense of grace, continually hitting us over the head with imagery and preachy moments about how parents just don't understand.
The Secret moves far too slowly to be considered a paranormal thriller, and yet it's also too strange to be sold as a romance. The cover art suggests this might be another "J-horror" entry like The Ring or The Grudge, but there are no similarities to be found. The setup is interesting, but once the souls are "transferred" things get far too melodramatic to take seriously. I never bought the concept, and the rest of the film left me skeptical and bored with its predictable direction. There is no true climax, and everything resolves with David Duchovny whispering inappropriately into a teenager's ear. The only shocking thing, aside from the base concept, is that it all goes nowhere.
The Secret bombs because we don't care to find out its mysteries. Who wants to see a father try to wrestle with the idea that the woman he loves is trapped in his daughter's body? Who wants to see a mother come to grips with the fact that her daughter was everything she was afraid of? There's little hope you'll be interested to find out how these issues don't resolve themselves in any satisfactory way.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The entire production looks handsome enough, and technically we have a competent movie with solid compositions and credible acting. Filming took place in Montreal, and they took advantage of the beautiful winter scenery mixed with a well appointed neighborhood. The cast is solid, with Duchovny and Taylor passing believably as husband and wife, both looking far more attractive than they have in past projects. Olivia Thirlby gets the daunting challenge of playing two characters, since she has to be the petulant daughter and then mimic Lili Taylor the rest of the time. She does this very well, making it easy to tell who's driving her body at all times. Too bad the cast didn't have better material to work with, because this could have been a worthy project—save for the yucky sexual tension and predictable turns.
Image Entertainment issues a solid DVD to at least explain this misfire. The transfer is decent with everything looking crisp and clear. I noticed there is a Blu-ray release also being issued, which usually means a strong DVD transfer is a foregone conclusion. The image is purposefully dark and moody, and the final product reflects this. Sound is handled well enough, with options of a full surround or stereo mix, both of which are competent. Extras include interviews with the three leads explaining their takes on what it all means, and raw footage of Vincent Perez directing them on set.
Good cast, good production values, but nothing else to hold this one up. The Secret is the perfect argument that Westerners should stop trying to adapt Japanese films. Skip this one, unless you have fantasies about David Duchovny being a sexually tortured dad.
Guilty of being a gross concept and a plodding melodrama. This Secret should remain untold.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Cast Interviews
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