Movie reviews: ‘The Secrets We Keep’ a gritty film about trust, survivor’s guilt, and secrets

THE SECRETS WE KEEP: 3 ½ STARS

The Secrets We Keep

“The Secrets We Keep,” a new revenge thriller starring Noomi Rapace and coming to digital and on-demand, is a riff on the claustrophobic revenge story of “Death and the Maiden.”

Set in 1960, Rapace plays Maja, a Romanian refugee and Holocaust survivor, now living in a small American town with her physician husband Lewis (Chris Messina) and son Patrick (Jackson Vincent).

One day at the park, she hears a man whistle for his dog and a flood of memories come back. Following him home she gets a good look and her worst fears are confirmed. He is the SS officer who, near the end of the war, raped her and killed her sister as they fled a concentration camp. 

Blinded by anger and horrific memories she kidnaps him, hitting him in the head with a hammer and shoving him in the trunk of her car. When Lewis gets home to find the man, who denies Maja’s charges and claims to be a Swiss citizen named Thomas (Joel Kinnaman, who, in real life went to high school with Rapace), tied up in the basement, he is rightfully perplexed.

Maja had never shared to the details of her ordeal with her husband, but he trusts her and goes along with plan to get a confession, one way or another.

“I’m not the man you think I am,” Thomas (or whatever his name is) says, begging to be let go. She is tortured by the memory of what happened and why her sister was shot and she wasn’t.

“Help me remember,” she says to him. “It is your only way out of here.” 

“The Secrets We Keep” raises questions of trust, survivor’s guilt and the corrosive nature of secrets. It’s a gritty, unsentimental movie that ratches up the tension with ideas, not action.

How reliable is Maja’s memory? What amount of scepticism should Lewis bring to this situation? Is vengeance morally correct? Those questions and more hang heavy over the plot, confronting the viewer to assess their own feelings and biases. The story isn’t particularly tricky, but it is carefully calibrated to make you wonder who is telling the truth, who is lying and even, who can trust their memories of long-ago events.

Rapace does her best work ever in an English film, bringing some nuance to a character who could have been played with a much harder, vengeful edge. Messina brings the sense of his character’s confusion to life—You said we were going to do things together,” he says supportively, “and you torture him while I’m not here?”—while Kinnaman remains a cypher, a person who may or may not be the man Maja thinks he is. Each performance fits in place, creating a mosaic of truths and lies that is as compelling as it is confounding. 

VAMPIRES VS. THE BRONX: 4 STARS

Vampires vs. the Bronx

“Vampires Vs. the Bronx,” a “Goonies” style coming-of-age Halloween flick now playing on Netflix, is a throwback to the good old days when horror for kids had fun and an edge. That it also has a timely message is simply the icing on the cake, or in this case, the blood on the stake.

The story centers around Miguel (Jaden Michael), Luis (Gregory Diaz IV), and Bobby (Gerald W. Jones III), three Bronx teens trying to arrange a block party to raise money to save their second home, a bodega operated by Tony (The Kid Mero), from being forced out by a rent hike.

Meanwhile, a new business is buying up all the local businesses, bringing with them gentrification and outsiders to the neighborhood. “White people with canvas bags. That’s always the first sign!” Among the newcomers are Frank (Shea Whigham), the tough guy whose throwing all the money around under the name Murnau Properties and Vivian (Sarah Gadon), a well-meaning newbie who always seems to be nearby whenever the kids are outside.

When people begin to disappear, Miguel, the neighborhood’s beating heart and soul, realizes the obvious, that vampires have come north of 120th street.

“Sleep with one eye open and don’t get got,” says live-streamer Gloria (Imani Lewis). When they discover that the bloodsuckers plan on taking over the kids watch a “Blade” DVD to pick up vampire hunting tricks and rally the neighborhood to fight back.

“Vampires Vs. the Bronx” is both a loving tribute to teen horror—the guys call the vampires “Suckhead!”—and a carefully constructed condemnation of gentrification. Director Oz Rodriguez brings much personality to the film, bringing the dying neighborhood to vivid life. He builds the world, infusing the story with subtle and not-so-subtle references to racism—“We’re going to wipe you out like the vermin you are,” sneers one vampire—and the timely real world issues regarding marginalized communities—“It’s easier to live somewhere where no one cares when people disappear,” says another bloodsucker—nimbly balancing social commentary and jokes.

The story isn’t just a vampire story, although there’s fangs and stakes and blood. It’s more about the trio of charismatic kids who become heroes to protect something they really believe in. They have heart and humour, and while the horror may not satisfy hardcore gorehounds, the movie’s ebullience will.

TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL: 4 STARS

Totally Under Control

“Totally Under Control,” the title of the new Alex Gibney now on VOD, is a bad joke. Kind of like nicknaming a tall guy Tiny it’s an ironic, sarcastic comment on U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated denial of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Made in secret over the five months leading up to the U.S. presidential election, it features damning interviews with scientists, medical professionals, and government insiders.

The opening narration sets the stage, not that anyone alive needs reminding that we are living in very strange times. “2020. Since the 1980s, it’s been a magical year for science fiction writers, the year of predictions about the future, and the ruthless power of technology and humanity would be bound together by a world wide web. Artificial Intelligence would exponentially expand the powers of the human mind. And the world would be dominated and controlled by information based mega corporations without need for government intervention. But all that turned out to be a technocratic illusion when nature set loose a terrible disease that took advantage of the very connectivity we had manufactured.”

The narration goes on to say, “At a moment of crisis the world’s most powerful nation didn’t rise to the occasion it descended into division and chaos,” before asking the million dollar question, “Why did it fail to reckon for a danger for which it should have been so well prepared?”

To answer the question Oscar winner Gibney with co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger invented the “Corona Cam,” an easy and sanitary way to do interviews—this does not look like a Zoom meeting—to interview a variety of experts like whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright who says, “We, the scientists, knew what to do for the pandemic response. The plan was in front of us, but leadership would not do it.”

Add to that recent newsreel footage, investigative reporting and ominous narration and you have a portrait of catastrophic systemic bungling, beginning in January 20, 2020 when the U.S. and South Korea both discovered their first cases of COVID-19, that has left hundreds of thousands dead, many hundreds of thousands more ill with side effects that will linger for years and an economy in tatters.

It’s a haunting collection of facts that would be unbelievable if it wasn’t true. Gibney, Harutyunyan and Hillinger’s aim to expose “a system-wide collapse caused by a profound dereliction of Presidential leadership,” is methodical and urgent, digging behind the headlines to reveal a timeline that should be of concern to everyone reading this or watching the film. It is a difficult watch, not because it isn’t slickly made but because it an infuriating reminder of how we got into this situation.

The movie’s tagline says it all, “The truth will make you sick.”

I AM GRETA: 2 ½ STARS

I Am Greta

Swedish filmmaker Nathan Grossman has been documenting teen activist Greta Thunberg since before she became a worldwide cause célèbre. From her early protests encouraging a “School Strike for the Climate” to her famous journey across the Atlantic Ocean en route to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City, Grossman was there assembling the footage that became “I Am Greta,” a new documentary now playing in theatres.

Charting the course of the polarizing eco warrior’s life and career in two flashpoint years, 2018 and 2019, Grossman paints a glossy but ultimately superficial portrait. His unprecedented access to his subject allows for a lively look at Thunberg’s concerns about climate change, punctuated by her fiery addresses to world leaders.

The incendiary headline making speeches are all represented here—”You lied to us,” she admonishes London’s Parliament. “You gave us false hope.”—and her, “We haven’t taken to the streets for you to take selfies with us and tell us you admire what we do,” dismissal of bandwagon jumping celebs is as zingy a barb as we’re likely to hear from a public figure but as exciting as those public moments are Grossman never gets really up close and personal with his subject.

In part it’s understandable. Thunberg is a public figure who has been open about her activism and Asperger syndrome, which she describes as a superpower that allows her to cut through the information overload of her cause and focus on her mission, but she’s also a young woman thrust into the glare of a judgmental press and public. She isn’t obligated to reveal her personal life but the title “I Am Greta” promises insight that never appears.

Still, as a verité depiction of a time when the world was focused on Thunberg’s methods and important message, “I Am Greta” is sure to interest her supporters.

See “I Am Greta” in Oakville (Winston Churchill), Whitby (Landmark Whitby), Kitchener, Waterloo, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Sherbrooke, Halifax and other cities!

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