The Secrets We Keep is certainly an evocative title when you get down to the brass tacks of the plot details, but it is also something of a promise to the audience. Those secrets must be intriguing at the onset and, when they are revealed, shocking or salacious or devastating or some other strongly emotional reaction. What they need not be is the obvious foregone conclusion in a story that really only has two outcomes. Either Maja (Noomi Rapace), the protagonist of Ryan Covington and director Yuval Adler’s screenplay, is justified in doing what she does to a potentially very guilty man over the course of this story, or she is so psychologically tormented by the possibility of this man being who she thinks he is that nothing could even theoretically be justified.

There is an aspect of this whole set-up that hasn’t even been mentioned yet, but we’ll get to that in a second. The basic part of the set-up is that Maja, a Romanian woman who barely survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, has been rebuilding her life in America when an unwelcome face from her past comes barging back into her life. To all the world, his name is Thomas (Joel Kinnaman), an unassuming businessman of some sort with a wife and two children (one of whom was very recently born), but Maja believes him to be Karl, a guard from the camp who raped and terrorized the entirety of Maja’s inner circle, including her parents, younger sister and friends. To prove this, she kidnaps Thomas/Karl, traps him in her basement, and tortures him to get the answers she needs.

This is obviously a tricky type of situation to get us to sympathize with Maja, although Rapace’s carefully modulated, genuinely distressed performance is a significant step in the direction. The actress communicates pretty powerfully the posttraumatic strain and the moral certainty of this character. The problem arises with the second, less forgivable aspect of the story, which has Maja involving her hapless American husband Lewis (Chris Messina) in this scheme. Here, Covington and Adler are shortsighted in their view of what moral tension genuinely looks and feels like. Lewis is a voice of reason in all this, having been told one story by Maja, only to discover that the tale was made from whole cloth. Her reality is of a history filled with trauma, and his perception – and its resulting dissolution – matters.

Messina is quite good as the devastated husband, who cannot imagine what his wife’s life must have looked like before they met. Once the film reaches the inevitable scene of near-discovery on the part of a local police officer (David Maldonado) and Thomas’ wife (Amy Seimetz) – including a patently ludicrous moment in which the officer, who presumably is an intelligent human being, doesn’t notice an obvious bloodstain at eye level in front of him – the story shifts into familiar thriller territory. No longer does the central set-up and all its thematic heaviness or bold issues of perspective even matter. Those things might have been problematic in the extreme, but they were present. As soon as the toggle switches, everything simplifies to become about the espionage of their actions.

We eventually circle back to that idea of only two outcomes for this story. Given the entire middle section, in which the presence of a rational voice still somehow doesn’t put a stop to the plot almost immediately, either option would be unforgivable. If Maja is truly insane, the entire affair is a loss and a waste. If she isn’t, then this is still a story about the further suffering of a survivor who has suffered enough. Somehow, the movie finds a way to the easiest exit for nearly all these characters, with a decisive choice, a tragic emotional release, and a wordless, baldly manipulative coda. Everything about The Secrets We Keep feels like exploitation, but none more so than that dreaded coda. Instead of lifting the strain on these characters, Covington and Adler are determined to pile on more of it.

Everything about The Secrets We Keep feels like exploitation.
40 %
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