Can you keep a secret? Judge Clark Douglas can't, so don't tell him.
Sometimes a gift can be a curse.
"Let's just keep this between you and me for now. It'll be our little secret."
Facts of the Case
Benjamin (David Duchovny, The X-Files) and Hannah (Lili Taylor, Six Feet Under) are a very happy married couple. Things are going very well for both of them, and they've never been more in love. They have a 16-year-old daughter named Sam (Olivia Thirlby, Juno). Sam is a pretty normal teenager, disregarding her parents and rolling her eyes perpetually. One tragic day, Hannah and Sam are in a terrible car accident. Both are badly injured and are placed in the same hospital room. By some strange coincidence, both come to the edge of passing away at the very same time. As the doctors are frantically attempting to rescue the mother and daughter, something very unusual happens. Hannah's spirit somehow transfers to Sam's body. How did this happen? What caused it? Where is Sam's spirit? Well, that's The Secret, isn't it?
An American remake of a Japanese suspense film? Wow, now there's an original concept. Thanks to the box-office success of movies like The Ring and The Grudge, we've had a whole host of Japanese horror/suspense/thriller remakes over the past few years. I'll admit that I've only seen a handful of recent Japanese films, but most of those who have a familiarity with the genre insist that the American remakes are pretty much always inferior. I can't say that I have ever heard someone say, "Hey, that new version was so much better than that lousy Japanese version!" I sincerely doubt that The Secret is going to do much to alter anyone's opinion on this recent trend. Nonetheless, it should be noted that The Secret is a bit more engaging than something like Shutter.
The concept here is an interesting one. It's essentially a spin on Freaky Friday, this time using the concept for a psychological mystery instead of laughs. Well, okay, there are actually some amusing moments. When Hannah (as played by Thirlby) looks at her naked body for the first time, she is startled to discover a tattoo that she never knew her daughter had. Another sequence takes Hannah back to Sam's school, and Hannah worries that she may not be able to remember enough information to keep up her daughter's A-minus grades. These moments are among the film's most interesting scenes. Anyway, it's mostly serious business here. It's also a little creepy, as Hannah (inside the body of Sam) offers up declarations of romantic love for Benjamin. The movie addresses this here and there and thankfully avoids going anywhere too terribly icky.
Benjamin isn't certain that Hannah is actually trapped inside his daughter's body, so he tells her to keep it a secret until they can figure something out. Benjamin is a little like Mulder here, pretty eager to believe that it's really Hannah despite going through the motions of being skeptical. He begins to do research on Hannah's condition, talks to Hannah about her new situation, and learns some interesting scientific information. At some point during this, we begin to feel like a little more ought to be happening. The film has a brief running time of 91 minutes, but it still feels quite padded. You get the sense that the movie is just wandering around in circles for a while, holding off on delivering "the big finish" until the movie is long enough to be honestly called feature-length.
Of all the Japanese horror/suspense remakes that have been offered up thus far, I have to say that this one is probably the least worthy of being called a "horror" or "suspense" film. Yes, there are some spooky elements here during several key moments. However, for the vast majority of its running time this movie is simply a drama about two people trying to work through a confused and complicated situation. That's a good thing, because this movie works best on that level. The increasing marital tension between Benjamin and Hannah is handled quite well, as is Hannah's attempt at trying to find a way to become comfortable with Sam's social life.
David Duchovny probably has the most screen time here. I can't decide whether he's just bored or intentionally low-key, but I found his quiet presence appealing. He approaches this farfetched situation with a slightly weary acceptance. His performance sort of sets the tone for the movie, which is gently intriguing and mostly uneventful. Duchovny's role is arguably a pretty easy one, though. All he has to do is sit back and react to everything. Thirlby is the one who has to make the movie work. Early on, she seems to be playing a version of her character from Juno with a sour attitude. These scenes play up the typical teenage stereotype a bit much, but Thirlby is really quite good when she's playing a grown woman trapped inside a teenager's body. The only other performance of note comes from Lili Taylor. She's fine, but isn't really given enough time to make a big impression.
The Blu-ray transfer is fairly solid. Blacks are deep enough; the muted color scheme is reasonably satisfying. Sound is appropriately low-key, with Nathaniel Mechaly's muted score blending in unobtrusively with the dialogue and sound design (interestingly, no less than four people are given key "sound" credit). There are a few supplements included on the disc. Some interviews with Duchovny, Thirlby, and Taylor are pretty interesting, as each gives their take on the movie. Those interviews aside, there's only some behind-the-scenes footage of the film's creation and a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Do I say something positive or something negative here? As you may have guessed from reading the evidence, I'm a little ambiguous about The Secret. It could potentially go either way, but I think the ending seals the deal on my feelings. It's a curiously flat, uninvolving ending that simply doesn't manage to make us care nearly as much as it ought to. The movie isn't bad, but it leaves us with the overall impression that it wasn't worth the time.
The Secret is a respectably crafted flick with some solid performances and a fairly interesting concept. Despite this, I can't really recommend it. The movie just doesn't offer enough interest beyond the concept to make it worth paying your hard-earned money for.
Guilty. The sentence is two weeks of community service.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Cast Interviews
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.