It’s one thing when your past comes back to haunt you. It’s another when you attempt to haunt it back.
Set in post-WWII America, The Secrets We Keep follows Maja (Noomi Rapace), a dedicated, suburban housewife and mother who seems to be living the American Dream. Things change, however, when she sees Thomas (Joel Kinneman), a man who she believes committed war crimes against her in the past. Angry and looking for revenge, she kidnaps him and ties him up in their basement. As Maja and her husband Lewis (Chris Messina) try to discern the truth about her story, they also must attempt to keep their nosy neighbours and the police at bay until they can decide what to do next.
Directed by Yuval Adler, The Secrets We Keep is a solid thriller that offers the right amount of questions to keep the mystery and intrigue going throughout. The first feature by screenwriter Alan Covington, Secrets is a strong debut that almost feels like a one-act play at times. Though the film moves around its location, the most effective scenes take place in Lewis and Maja’s basement as they attempt to uncover the truth regarding Thomas’ history. While Kinneman and Rapace are effective in their roles, the highlight of the film is Messina as he sifts through the stories of both leads and attempts to discern reality from fiction. Messina has a certain look about him that breathes sympathetic yet he also has the ability to unleash a seething rage when necessary. As the heavily-burdened husband, Lewis, Messina has the opportunity here to show his range as a man torn between his wife and a stranger.
There’s an element of the feminine empowerment on display in The Secrets We Keep that makes the film feel relevant. Ashamed of her past, Maja has built a new life with a family that she loves. However, as her memories seem to become reality, she feels that she must deal with the man that she believes to have ruined her life. As Maja steps up to fight back against her alleged assaulter, she also fights for her husband to understand the deep pain that she has repressed for so long. (Interestingly, the film takes place in the Post-War Era, a time when everything was supposed to be viewed as a ‘golden age’, despite the fact that it was ignoring far deeper social issues.) In this way, Secrets shows a deep concern for the victims of past abuse and the need for them to speak their voice in an effort to reclaim the fullness of their lives.
Further though, Secrets speaks as much about the need to forgive as it does about uncovering the truth. Obsessed with the pain of her past, Maja is convinced that Thomas is guilty and is willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to get the confession that she so badly wants. To her, an admission of guilt from Thomas is a sign of validation, not only as affirmation of her story but also to prove it to her husband as well.
Nevertheless, Lewis’ response is interesting here. While he believes his wife about the trauma of her past and remains supportive, he also recognizes that the road they’re taking now could destroy their future. In this way, Lewis sees Maja’s inability to forgive as a roadblock towards moving on with her life (and their life together as a family). On the surface, it could be argued that this is an attempt to placate the damage of his wife’s past but there remains an earnestness within Lewis that suggests otherwise. Though he exists at a time of toxic masculinity, Lewis truly cares for his wife and wants her to be free. (Even so, without giving spoilers, roles do continue to shift throughout the film.) For Lewis, forgiveness is not a means to forget but rather to release our hurt. In this way, Secrets is willing to ask the question of what it means to face the actions of the past and whether or not there is a space for grace for the future.
In the end, The Secrets We Keep is an entertaining and intense ride that keeps your interest and engages the audience. While Covington’s script starts quickly and builds momentum well, the most important questions lie with its relevance to the moment today.
The Secrets We Keep is now available on VOD.