The Secret (2007)
There is a time honored old adage that advises people to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. We can never fully understand the life of someone as we observe it from the outside. Over time this premise has morphed into a specific variation of switching bodies. Even in this there are many several dominate variations of the theme. There is the one where parents switch places with their children. The best examples of this are movies like Disney’s movie ‘Freaky Friday’ and its remake. Recently there was one where a boy and girl change places. Even the venerable classic television series ‘Star Trek’ had an episode with aliens possessing the crew members. From the simple little saying a wealth of ideas has sprung and one of the latest versions is ‘The Secret’ or as it was released in France; ‘Si j'étais toi’, literally ‘If I Were You’. This is one of those kinds of film that may not look so good on paper. The director is Swiss, from a Japanese novel with an American cast. Traditionally films with such an eclectic mix are dubious but in this case this international effort is much better than expected. There is an extra level of difficulty in pulling off a body switch movie. Most do go the comedy route because it is easier to get a laugh out of the situation. Here it is played straight ostensibly as a horror movie. It doesn’t reach all of its goals and is not without its faults but overall it is a solid movie. Do not take a cursory look at the plot and think this is a variation of ‘Freaky Friday’. Although the fundamental plot is similar this is not by any stretch of the imagination a kid’s flick. This movie is an adult paranormal movie and does work on that level.
The script, written by Ann Cherkis was based on the 1999 movie, ‘Himitsu’ scripted by Yojiro Takita. This is the freshman opus for Cherkis as a screenwriter. There are a lot of Asian horror flicks that are transposed over to here in the States. This one seems to hold up better during the journey over the ocean. First of all this is only marginally a horror movie. It is far more of a psychological thriller. The basis of the story is a woman is in a horrible car crash while driving with her daughter. The mother dies and her consciousness is transferred into the daughter. As mentioned the concept of an adult being transferred to a teenager is not new this is a novel twist. The psychological aspects come in to the relationships with the father. He deeply loved his wife and now she lives on but in the body of their daughter. The script takes on the obvious quagmire of sexual relations. Technically the young woman in front of the man is his wife but the body is that of his teenaged daughter. The topic of incest in any shape or form is one of the touchiest ones possible but here it is handled properly as the man immediately dismisses all such notions. The story focuses on the emotional impact this new situation has caused. This is about a man crushed by the death of hiss beloved wife only to find out all of her memories; feelings and essence are still alive in the form of their daughter. She may be there in spirit, so to speak, but she is unavailable to him as a wife. Ancillary to this is their daughter’s spirit is gone and they don’t know if these circumstances will be permanent or not. Cherkis shows this tragedy with great humanity and sensitivity. She balances the required elements of a thriller with this emotional drama. She does have a perchance to stride over the line to the melodramatic limits at times. Occasionally the script feels more like something that Lifetime would show during a paranormal themed Sunday afternoon. This tendency is most likely due to lack of experience. Cherkis has great potential in this field but has to season her writing some before she can reach her personal potential. I look forward to her next story.
Vincent Perez has been working ass a director for over a decade but this is only his second feature length film. He mostly worked with shorts and a television episode over in France. He wisely chose a more traditional romantic drama before taking on a movie like this with a strange premise and potentially more controversial subject. Perez has been working on movie sets for a lot longer as an actor. Many actors try to make the move to the big chair behind the camera but Perez shows a good deal of common sense in taking it slow for the transition. He has an interesting visual style that is gripping. He moves the camera in such a fashion that it seems to anticipate the audience and what they want to see. What is very notable about his work in this film is his way of not trying to force the typical change of pace humor. It would be completely inappropriate in this film so Perez lets the situations simmer ready to come to a boil. That is not to say that there aren’t a few moments where a naturally albeit darkly funny circumstance doesn’t arise. A grown woman in the body of a teenager is bound to be a bit humorous no matter what. With these scenes there is a little bittersweet touch that keeps the movie grounded.
The Marris family is much like many successful American families. The father, Ben (David Duchovny) is a doctor. He has a loving wife Hannah (Lili Taylor), a photographer and a sixteen year old daughter Samantha (Olivia Thirlby), usually called Sam. Her parents are proud of her being a straight A student but as often happens in those teen years there is growing friction between Sam and her parents, particularly her mother. Sam, like most girls her age, is anxious to grow up and stop being treated like a kid. Perez takes sufficient time easing the audience into the family dynamic. He shows how Sam is entering that rebellious age setting up much of the second act of the film. Sam stays the night at her best friend Taylor’s (Trisha LaFache) home while her parents have a passionate night together. The next morning Hannah picks Sam up in the car for a weekend away. Typically Sam is augmentative and distracts Hannah. They get into an accident and both are rushed to the hospital. When Ben gets to the hospital both mother and daughter are in serious condition in side by side beds. Hannah wakes up long enough to see her daughter still unconscious in the next bed. Sam flat lines and Hannah demands that Ben give her Sam’s hand; when the doctor pulls their hands apart Hannah goes into arrest and dies but Sam begins to recover. When Sam wakes she realizes that she is Hannah and the movie really begins to get started.
You might think that this will be the usual story with Hannah and Ben trying to understand the situation but there is so much more. For one there is the whole subplot of Hannah discovering that Sam’s friends are into drugs and sex; she was not the innocent girl they thought. It takes the ‘Freaky Friday’ themes to an adult and more realistic level. There are some moments between Ben and Hannah/Sam that are genuinely touchy and are pulled off because of the amazing talent of the actors. This is one of Duchovny’s best works as he demonstrates the depth to his abilities. Thirlby is a relative newcomer but certainly has a long and illustrious career ahead. She plays this dual role with an expertise that few older actors could muster. Taylor, albeit in a smaller role also does a great job. All of this combines to a film that is noteworthy and more importantly a fantastic one to view.
The film comes from the ThinkFilm division of Image Entertainment. This is the more cutting edge part of this distributor and with this film they score a direct hit. It is a shame that more was not done with a theatrical release but at least you can add the DVD to your collection; and you should.