David Duchovny likes sexual innuendo. His leading role work in film has many times been laced with stories of a sexual nature or rooted in even more overtly sexual plotlines. The Secret qualifies as one of those films, but it’s not overtly sexual and it’s not squeamishly enacted. French Actor/Director Vincent Perez helmed the film and as an audience member it’s quite difficult to determine what the film wants to be. Is it a sort of neo-coming of age film, a French/Japanese-inspired horror film where it’s more about the uncertainty of a situation that’s creepy than the actual horror itself, or a supernatural-questioning drama like so many others we saw in the 2000s?
It’s a chunky blend of all of the genres and sub-genres mentioned above, and it’s so difficult to sum up in a concise category, that I give it extra credit for the purposes of this review. Though a complex concept for a film, Perez makes it simple, straightforward and fairly concise. The film has a pretty obvious arc and also ends the way you’d expect (and probably hope). The key to it all though, is the tension that is created by the film’s unusual supernatural concept about halfway in.
So, the story goes like this, Olivia Thirlby (you probably recognize her from Ghost World and Juno) plays Sam, the only daughter of Duchovny and his wife played by Lili Taylor (unusually rigid in her role). Sam is 16 years old and recently moved to a small suburb of Boston and the public school of her nightmares. She’s an honor student who finds the only way to fit in there is to use drugs and be promiscuous – you know, typical public high school behavior. She’s annoyed and disdainful to her parents, especially her mother, who is actually pretty lenient but within reason. That’s the hardest sell for me throughout the movie, because given the type of parents Sam has it doesn’t seem like she would be so easily sold into the rebellious lifestyle.
Embroiled in an argument one day about why her daughter treats her like she does, the car hits a semi and careens off the icy road and flips into a lake. Both mother and daughter are in the hospital together, next to each other in their respective ER hospital beds when Duchovny arrives later that night. At one point the mother and daughter are both cognizant at the same time and they reach out to each other and clasp hands. The daughter begins to crash and when she does the ER doctors need to remove her from the room to operate, as they pull her apart from the mother’s grip, the mother immediately dies. The next time we see Sam, she wakes up in the hospital and right away is confused and alarmed as she appears to believe that she is her mother, trapped in Sam’s body.
Gradually, we learn that Duchovny’s wife is indeed trapped int he body of their daughter Sam. This is where it all gets weird, and it’s really hard to connect with the character of Sam/Mom because she’s constantly switching. Not only that, but it’s just an unnerving feeling to watch as she longs for her husbands embrace when she needs someone close, but finds she cannot embrace him as if she were his wife – for obvious reasons. It’s really a unique premise and one that gets explored pretty well by Perez, but ultimately, the film recoils from the most disturbing of possible endings and gives the audience what they would no doubt clamor for in American cinemas. Too bad, the American release of this was less than notable.