Review: ‘The Secrets We Keep,’ starring Noomi Rapace, Chris Messina, Joel Kinnaman and Amy Seimetz

September 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Joel Kinnaman and Noomi Rapace in “The Secrets We Keep” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“The Secrets We Keep”

Directed by Yuval Adler

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1959 in a fictional U.S. city called Spruce, the dramatic film “The Secrets That We Keep” features an all-white cast of characters (most of them are American, and a few are European immigrants) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Romanian immigrant living in America kidnaps a man she suspects was the German Nazi who brutally assaulted her and killed her sister during World War II.

Culture Audience: “The Secrets We Keep” will appeal primarily to people who like crime thrillers or stories about Holocaust survivors.

Chris Messina and Noomi Rapace in “The Secrets We Keep” (Photo by Patti Perret/Bleecker Street)

Getting revenge on a suspected World War II Nazi who’s changed his identity is a concept that’s been done before in movies such as 1998’s “Apt Pupil,” 2011’s “The Debt” (which was a British remake of the 2007 Israeli film “Ha-Hov”) and 2016’s “Remember.” The competent but not particularly outstanding thriller “The Secrets We Keep” is another movie to add to the list. Directed by Yuval Adler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ryan Covington, “The Secrets We Keep” greatly benefits from the above-average acting from the main stars of the cast, because the movie’s plot wears very thin after a while.

In “The Secrets We Keep,” it’s 1959 in a U.S. suburban city named Spruce, where people live on quiet, tree-lined streets in middle-class neighborhoods. One of the city residents is Maja (played by Noomi Rapace), a Romanian immigrant who is married to a compassionate American doctor named Lewis (played by Chris Messina), whose patients include several workers at a local refinery. The refinery is one of the biggest employers in the city.

Maja and Lewis have a polite and adorable son named Patrick (played by Jackson Dean Vincent), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Lewis has a private practice, and Maja works part-time as an assistant in his office. They met when Lewis worked at a U.S. Army hospital in Greece in 1946, during the post-World War II Reconstruction.

It’s shown early on in the movie that Lewis is more open-hearted and trusting than Maja is. For example, during an appointment with disabled patient named Eddie (played by Frank Monteleone), who lost both of his legs in World War II, Lewis invites unmarried and childless Eddie over to have dinner sometime with Lewis and Maja. Later, while Maja and Lewis are having a private conversation in their home, Maja expresses discomfort over the dinner invitation.

Maja comments to Lewis about Eddie: “He doesn’t need your pity. You made him feel awkward.” Lewis replies, “No, I didn’t.” Maja, “Yes you did.” This back-and-forth continues for another minute or two, but it’s clear that Maja and Lewis have different ways of handling emotionally sensitive situations. This conflicting style causes much of the tension during what happens later in the story.

Lewis, Maja and Patrick have a tranquil and fairly uneventful life until Maja, just by chance, sees a man (played by Joel Kinnaman) whom she thinks she has encountered in the past. Maja sees him while she’s spending some time in a local park with Patrick. She intently stares at the stranger and starts to follow him until he gets into a car and drives away. The next time she sees this man, they are both in a locksmith store. This time, Maja follows the man all the way to his home and sees that he has a wife and two children: a daughter who’s about 5 or 6 years old and a baby boy.

Maja trespasses into their backyard and overhears him talking to his wife about his job at the refinery. He has a European accent and his wife is American. Maja is almost caught when the family’s dog start barking at her. The way that Maja looks at this man, it’s clear that she has a lot of animosity and suspicion toward him.

The next time Maja sees the man, it’s outside of the refinery, where she’s parked her car. She approaches him and tells him that she has car trouble and needs help. When he goes over to her car, she hits him on the head with a hammer and pushes him into the car trunk.

Maja then ties him up and drives to a shallow grave. When she opens the car trunk, she’s pointing a gun at the man’s head. He shouts something very quickly (which gives away something that happens toward the end of the film) and pleads for his life. “What do you want?” he frantically asks Maja.

It turns out that Maja thinks that this man is a German Nazi named Karl who, 15 years ago, murdered her sister and beat and raped Maja and left her for dead among some other murdered Romanians. The movie shows Maja’s memories of this vicious attack, which involved a group of Nazis, but Maja believes this man was the cruelest one in the group of attackers. The assaults and murders happened outside at night, but Maja says she will never forget Karl’s eyes.

The man whom Maja has abducted swears that he doesn’t know what Maja is talking about. He says he is a Swiss immigrant named Thomas and that he was never in Romania during the time that she described. Instead of shooting him and burying him in the shallow grave, Maja takes him home and tells a shocked Lewis what happened. It’s revealed later in the movie that Maja doesn’t want to kill this man until he confesses to the crimes she believes that he committed.

By bringing this kidnapped man into her home, Maja has to reveal to Lewis that she has a secret past as a Holocaust survivor. For the first time in her marriage, she also confesses to Lewis that she also lied about her family background. Instead of coming from a middle-class family, she actually came from a family of poor Gypsies. And she also tells Lewis for the first time that she was never an only child but she had a sister who was murdered.

Lewis’ first instinct is to call the police with the explanation that the kidnapping was a misunderstanding, but Maja persuades him not to do that because she says that the police will consider Lewis to be an accomplice in the kidnapping. Lewis reluctantly agrees to keep Joseph locked in their basement for one night. Of course, as soon as Lewis says this, viewers can easily guess that this kidnapping is going to last longer than one night.

The rest of the movie is a big guessing game: Is Thomas really who he says he is? How long can Lewis and Maja hold him captive in their basement without anyone finding out? And will Thomas try to escape? All of these questions are answered in the film, which has a lot of suspenseful scenes. But then, there are other scenes where the only suspense is when viewers have to suspend their disbelief at some of aspects of the story.

For example, it’s not a spoiler to say that a lot of what happens in the house during the kidnapping would be difficult to hide from an inquisitive child such as Patrick. Let’s just say that the basement isn’t 100% soundproof. The sounds of Maja torturing Thomas (which happens more than once in the movie) or Thomas being yelled at by his kidnappers result in some close calls with some people who don’t live in the home but go to the home to find out if anything out of the ordinary has been going on. But strangely and unrealistically, the child who lives in the house and would be able to hear these loud and disturbing noises never seems to hear anything.

And there’s a scene where Maja and Lewis foolishly forget to take their loaded gun with them when they leave Thomas alone in the basement. The gun is left right in plain view on a table within reach of Thomas. Even though he’s tied to a chair, he can still move his chair over to the table. And you can guess what might happen after that.

Maja also decides to try to befriend Thomas’ distraught wife Rachel (played by Amy Seimetz) and finds out that Rachel is Jewish. There’s also some information that comes out about Maja’s mental-health history that will make viewers wonder how credible her story is or if her mind is playing tricks on her. Lewis also does some investigating on his own to look into Thomas’ background.

“The Secrets We Keep” has some good acting by Rapace, Messina, Kinnaman and Seimetz. Rapace and Kinnaman also had solid performances when they co-starred together in the 2015 mystery thriller “Child 44,” another movie whose acting was better than the screenplay. However, parts of “The Secrets That We Keep” become repetitive with the “he said/she said” stalemate between Thomas and Maja.

On the plus side, some of the questionable aspects of the story can be explained. For example, it’s possible that a petite woman like Maja could overpower Thomas (who’s a tall man) if he’s injured. It’s also possible that a respected doctor and his wife wouldn’t fall under suspicion for Thomas’ disappearance, especially when there was no proof that Lewis and Maja had contact with Thomas before he disappeared. Maja took a big risk by kidnapping Thomas outside of his workplace, but this is in 1959, before video surveillance cameras existed.

For all of Maja’s explosive anger toward Thomas, she’s not as tough as she’d like to come across to the person she’s kidnapped. Her emotional vulnerability is apparent because it seems that it’s more important for her that Lewis believe that she’s not crazy rather than for her to immediately kill the man she keeps threatening to murder. The ending of “The Secrets We Keep” isn’t much of a shock. Although it’s a realistic conclusion (stranger things have happened in real life), it will probably leave a lot of viewers feeling emotionally disconnected from everyone in the story.

Bleecker Street released “The Secrets We Keep” in select U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2020. The movie’s VOD release date is October 16, 2020.

Review: ‘She Dies Tomorrow,’ starring Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Katie Aselton, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim and Josh Lucas

July 31, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kate Lyn Sheil in “She Dies Tomorrow” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“She Dies Tomorrow” 

Directed by Amy Seimetz

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the psychological drama “She Dies Tomorrow” features a predominantly white cast (with one Asian person, one black person and one Latino person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman spreads her fear of dying to the people closest to her.

Culture Audience: “She Dies Tomorrow” will appeal primarily to people who have a high tolerance of incoherent movies that have vague endings.

Jane Adams and Josh Lucas in “She Dies Tomorrow” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

When a filmmaker makes a weird movie for the sake of being “unique” or “edgy,” what’s sometimes left out of the equation is ” interesting.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being weird, but when you create a story that is extremely boring, then people will feel like they wasted their time paying attention. Unfortunately, that is the end result of writer/director Amy Seimetz’s horrifically self-indulgent and mind-numbingly dull psychological drama “She Dies Tomorrow.” The movie is only 84 minutes long, but it feels like longer.

Don’t be fooled by the marketing for this movie. “She Dies Tomorrow” is definitely not a horror film. Instead, it’s a mash-up of scenes showing a bunch of unhappy people in Los Angeles who keep predicting that they’re going to die tomorrow. There are some multi-colored (usually red, blue and green) strobe-light effects that fill the screen every time this feeling of impending doom overtakes each person.

But this spooky, almost hallucinogenic cinematography is not a sign that there’s some outside force from outer space or an evil spirit causing this morbid gloom and doom. In fact, there isn’t much of an explanation for anything that goes on in this story. In a nutshell: The movie is about people who become convinced that they’re going to “die tomorrow.” When they say this negative and morbid thought out loud to other people, that thought spreads to those other people like a virus.

It’s shown in the beginning of the film that the person who seems to have started the spread of this mental virus is a woman named Amy (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), who lives alone in her house in Los Angeles. Amy is depressed about something, so she gets drunk, and is overwhelmed with the feeling that she’s going to die tomorrow.

There are way too many shots of Amy stumbling around in a sequined dress and doing things like stroking the panels on her hardwood floors and looking at random things on her laptop computer. One of the things she looks at online is a set of leather jackets for sale. And she also inexplicably goes in her backyard to set some paper on fire. (It’s never revealed what was on the paper and why she wanted to burn it.)

Amy’s middle-aged friend Jane (played by Jane Adams) comes over and sees Amy in this pathetic state. Amy is so drunk that she says to Jane, “I wonder if I could be made into a leather jacket.” And then she says the fateful words to Jane: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

Jane replies that Amy will definitely die if Amy continues to relapse. Amy then repeats her macabre prediction: “I’m going to die tomorrow.” Jane tells Amy that she won’t, but Amy insists that she will. They go back and forth with this argument for a minute or two.

After a few more random and nonsensical scenes that include Amy waking up as if she just had a nightmare, Jane is shown walking zombie-like into a party at the house of her brother Jason (played by Chris Messina) and Jason’s wife Susan (played by Katie Aselton). It’s a small, low-key gathering to celebrate Susan’s birthday.

The only other guests there are a younger couple named Brian (played by Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (played by Jennifer Kim), who have very different demeanors at the party. Tilly makes an effort to be talkative and outgoing, while Brian is mostly silent and looks uncomfortable.

Jane’s sudden arrival surprises the people at the party, because she had apparently told Jason and Susan that she wasn’t going to attend. Not only has Jane somewhat crashed the party, but she’s acting spaced-out and melancholy, which ruins the party’s previously upbeat atmosphere. Almost everyone’s been drinking alcohol at the party, where Jane utters the fateful words: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

There really isn’t much left to the story, except that Jane ends up in a doctor’s office, where the doctor (played by Josh Lucas) immediately thinks that something is psychologically wrong with Jane. Meanwhile, this “mental virus” spreads to Jason and Susan, who traumatize their teenage daughter Madison (played by Madison Calderon) when they both tell her that they’re going to die tomorrow.

There are also nonlinear flashback scenes of Amy and her relationship with a guy around her age named Craig (played by Kentucker Audley), who apparently started as someone who might have been looking to rent a room, because in one of the flashbacks, Amy gives Craig a tour of the house, as if he’s a potential renter. But somehow Amy and Craig ended up becoming lovers—there are no sex scenes in the movie, but it’s shown they had an intimate relationship.

However, this relationship didn’t last. Amy and Craig broke up, and Craig took the breakup very badly. The beginning of the film shows him having a meltdown in the living room where he shouts, “It’s over! … There’s no tomorrow!” And then there’s a scene later in the film of Craig lying dead on a house floor with a gun nearby. It’s left up to viewers to interpret what happened to Craig.

There’s also a bizarre cameo scene in a swimming pool of a woman named Skye (played by Michelle Rodriguez) and a woman named Erin (played by Olivia Taylor Dudley), where Skye says, “Hi, I’m Skye. I’m dying.” Erin replies, “I’m Erin. I’m dying too.” And then the swimming pool starts to become filled with blood. Erin says, “I think I’m on my period.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

In the production notes for “She Dies Tomorrow,” writer/director Seimetz explains what inspired the movie: “I was dealing with my own personal anxiety and found I was spreading my panic to other people by talking about it perhaps too excessively—while simultaneously watching a ton of news and watching mass anxiety spreading on the right and left politically. All this while remembering losing my father and many friends, that we all die at some point. We don’t know what to do but keep living, realizing the absurdity and tragedy that ‘with life comes death.’”

If the purpose of “She Dies Tomorrow” is to make viewers feel like they’re stuck watching miserable people who want their lives to end, while you can’t wait for this rambling and messy movie to end, then it succeeds in that goal.

Neon released “She Dies Tomorrow” in select U.S. cinemas on July 31, 2020. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is August 7, 2020.