In order to please audiences, thriller movies typically adhere to a classic formula for cinematic success: Suspicious figures lurk around every corner, never introducing themselves as friend or foe, and if viewers watch carefully, certain minuscule details will reveal the meaning behind shifty glances and alleyway confrontation scenes. As the tension builds, unsettling music rises and falls with audiences’ quickening heartbeats, and the ending, of course, is always a jarring surprise. Recently, Netflix released “Secret Obsession,” which fails to capture the classic mood of the psychological thriller.
The story begins with a cliché: It’s a dark and stormy night, and Jennifer Allen is running through the rain from an unknown assailant. Allen (portrayed by Brenda Song) tries to hide and call the police before driving away from her ruthless adversary but, blinded by the downpour, she accidentally darts in front of a speeding car. Although badly injured, Allen accepts help from onlookers, who immediately rush her to the hospital.
Due to the accident, Allen experiences severe amnesia, and is unable to recall key events; most importantly, she cannot remember the attacker or her soggy late-night sprint. Fortunately, her husband soon arrives and begins to clear up some of the mystery: The newlyweds live in a romantic mountainside cabin, miles away from civilization. Allen had previously quit her job to start a family with him and rarely left their secluded home. After her recovery, the lovebirds return to their idyllic life in the countryside, but it doesn’t take long for Allen’s supposedly perfect circumstances to unravel.
The movie’s basic premise could be eye-catching, if it was executed properly; after all, faceless enemies, memory loss and eerie seclusion can lend major creep vibes to any plot. Despite these iconic ingredients, “Secret Obsession” fumbles in an unexpected way.
The film’s description and trailer reveal its entire storyline. Viewers simply scanning their Netflix queue, searching for a potential movie, can read the whole plot in two sentences: “She can’t remember anything, not even her own husband. But he’s there to take care of her — one way or another.” At this point, the villain becomes painstakingly obvious, and the trailer reveals even more about the intrigue.
Thriller movies fundamentally rely on suspense, and they must constantly overthrow the audience’s hypotheses to keep our interest. If the plot unfolds according to a viewer’s hunch, it’s a poorly-crafted story. Oddly enough, “Secret Obsession” falls victim to its marketing tactics, since the elements meant to garner popularity spoil the entire plot of the film. The title itself reveals the villain’s motivations (spoiler alert: someone has a secret obsession), and there are no additional twists to liven things up.
In addition to its subpar plot, “Secret Obsession” overflows with humdrum dialogue. Although the boring conversations manage to transport viewers from scene to scene, the occasional cringe-worthy line lends an air of comedy to otherwise banal interactions. For example, at one point, a doctor paces down a crowded corridor and proclaims, “You should know, the damage to your wife’s hippocampus was severe.” The line is uncanny in its resemblance to a writer’s halfhearted attempt to conjure up medical language.
Later, Allen’s husband hovers over her sleeping form and whispers, “Hey Jen. It’s me. I just want you to know that I’m here and I’m not gonna leave, not matter what.” The moment falls short of being heartwarming or creepy, and ultimately seems like a useless filler statement.
If you manage to disregard the bad writing, “Secret Obsession” is still full of plot holes and inconsistencies. In the movie, Allen’s head wound circles around the main character’s skull, without ever landing on one definite spot, and as the gash rotates, it becomes difficult to remember how she was hurt in the first place. All realism is lost, and the sense of reality only decreases as the movie progresses.
To provide proof of their idyllic marriage, Williams gives Allen tons of photoshopped pictures, and although the ruse might sound brilliant, his photoshopping skills could not even fool the most clueless baby boomer. He superimposes a snapshot of his face over genuine pictures, but fails to consider size and skin tone discrepancies and the final product looks like a bobble-head who chose the wrong foundation shade and forgot to blend it into his neck. Keen-eyed viewers are left wondering how these terrible edits could possibly fool Allen.
Additionally, throughout “Secret Obsession,” several important people go missing for weeks, but no one seems to notice their absence, much less care enough to contact the police. Finally, Detective Frank Page (played by the beloved Allstate insurance spokesperson, Dennis Haysbert) becomes suspicious — but not because of the recent disappearances. Page is completely ignorant of the four missing people, but Allen’s car collision piques his unbridled concern. Does he want to talk to her about an accident forgiveness plan?
Insurance jokes aside, the writers fail to justify Page’s intense unease, which adds an irritating element to the detective’s relentless search.
In the end, any attempt to label “Secret Obsession” as either a success or a failure seems almost impossible. The story mimics a trashy Lifetime movie, full of undeveloped plotlines and obvious villains, but such forms of entertainment garner plenty of popularity. When the project began, it’s possible that the creators set out to imitate these overlooked, melodramatic spectacles. If, however, their goal was an above-average psychological thriller, the final product definitely misses the mark.
Fans of “Secret Obsession” celebrate the film as a classic B-movie because, according to this line of thinking, all its supposed flaws actually contribute to the movie’s greatness within its genre. Although this is a compelling point of view, “Secret Obsession” fails to capture the quirky self-awareness present in great B-movies.
Ethan Hawke, an actor who is well-known for hopping genres, once said, “It’s difficult to do a genre film well, and it doesn’t matter if you’re talking vampire movies or ‘Dawn of the Dead’ or ‘The Thing’ or ‘Escape From New York.’ Those kind of movies, they understand what the old-school B-movie is supposed to be, they get the throwback of it.” Unfortunately, “Secret Obsession” fails to understand the rigorous demands of both psychological thrillers and throwback B-movies.