Fatal Secrets

| March 25, 2011

Originally produced in 2009, the independent thriller Fatal Secrets is finally getting its well-deserved DVD release courtesy of MTI Home Video on March 29th, 2011. Written by Kathy Cotter and directed by Meir Sharony, Fatal Secrets is a film that ultimately lives and dies with its cast, and fortunately, director Sharony had a great cast to work with. The film follows the plight of Julia (Dina Meyer), which begins with her rape at the hands of her superficially charming date, Scott (Vincent Spano). Time passes, Julia all the while trying to convince herself that nothing happened even though it is clearly wreaking havoc on her life, until, finally, she confides in her two best friends, Sharlene (Lela Rochon) and Rebecca (Lea Thompson). The three of them decide to find evidence against Scott in order to bring him to justice, but their ostensibly simple plan of digging up some dirt on a scumbag quickly becomes a life-changing ordeal that brings the women closer as they face their demons and realize what lengths they are willing to go to in order to protect one another.
It must be conceded that, with a story as familiar as this, the potential clichés bowl you over and make you question if it’s even worth it to watch another version of this story. Fatal Secrets does start off a bit shaky, its opening scene feeling so rushed that it was actually difficult trying to place it within the unfolding narrative, as if the rape itself, the narrative catalyst, was deemed a necessary evil, and as such, deserved to be dealt with as quickly and perfunctorily as possible just to move the story along. Once the film gets its footing, though, it is a very entertaining treatment of this familiar plot with a finale that made me guilty that I ever doubted the film at all.
As I said, this is a film that lives and dies with its cast, and led by Dina Meyer, the cast of Fatal Secrets is able to bring this film into waters that, quite frankly, seemed too deep for it to be able to survive. While independent films tend to foster creative ingenuity and admirable ambition, it is often at a price, usually coming in the form of sloppy direction and clumsy acting. Fatal Secrets suffers from no such afflictions. There are a few pot holes along the way, but most of the film is smooth sailing, guided by commendably skilled direction from Sharony, who balances solid scenes of suspense with delicately meditative sequences focusing on Meyer attempting, unsuccessfully, to deal with the trauma of her rape by isolating herself in a sullen home that is as expansive as it is claustrophobic.
For as much as this film operates as an ensemble piece, it always returns to Meyer, and to the good fortune of the film. Spano is a fantastic villain and he has countless scenes wherein he delights in being despicable, and Lea Thompson nearly steals the show by film’s end, but Meyer holds strong from beginning to end, offering the consistency of performance one can trace throughout her entire career, both in her film and television appearances as well as her other independent work, notably the 2006 psychological horror film Crazy Eights. As Julia, Meyer is given the opportunity to play a character who starts at the top, gets knocked down and hits rock bottom, and then has to fight her way back up and reestablish her sense of self, and for an actor, that’s a challenge that can either be welcomed or refused, and Meyer admirably welcomes and rises to the challenge. As the rape victim struggling to come to terms with what happened to her, Meyer is a cut above standard police procedural competency, investing her performance with an emotional truth that resonates a bit deeper than the sometimes stale fare found on the Law and Order spin-offs/imitators. However, it is later in the film, once she has become the woman on a mission, the victim ready to reclaim her soul and put her life back on track, that Meyer is most impressive.
The film’s climax, featuring the inevitable confrontation with Spano, is the highlight for everyone involved. If you end up not liking the film, this is the scene that makes it worth your time, and if you end up loving the film, this will be your favorite scene. Meyer is able to operate at a middle ground between the caricatured bombast of Robert De Niro’s vengeful Max Cady in Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear and the silent sadism of Eihi Shiina in Audition. She didn’t want it to come to this, but she’s here and there’s no turning back, and both Rochon and the scene-stealing Thompson go along for the ride, bringing the film to a satisfying, thought-provoking close that rewards the audience for their faith in the quality expected from a cast like this.
One of the hardest parts of independent filmmaking is getting your film an audience, and while Fatal Secrets has had its difficulties, thanks to MTI Home Video, it is well on its way to establishing a loyal fan base provided viewers give the film a chance, and I believe that, regardless of any reluctance stemming from suspicion of redundancy, it is likely viewers will be won over since, beyond the strong performances from the seasoned cast and the impressive direction from Meir Sharony, the work ultimately speaks for itself.

About the Author:

Kyle Barrowman is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at Columbia College in Chicago. In addition to his work for Film Monthly, he has previously published essays for Cashiers du Cinemart, Offscreen, and The International Journal of Žižek Studies, on subjects ranging from film noir to Alfred Hitchcock, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Lee.
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