Sunday 30 June 2013

The Secret Keeper (2011)

Director: Bears Fonté
Stars: Sara Fletcher, Brad Fletcher, Rosalind Rubin and Ryan Mulkay
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Around the time The Secret Keeper began, partway into the Sci-Fi Shorts A set at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, the projector began to misbehave, thus rendering the colours notably off. Given that, even with this hindrance, The Secret Keeper was my favourite short in this set, I'm very happy to report that it looks a lot better when not filtered through a malfunctioning projector. That said, the colours are still faded, as old fashioned as are the clothes, hair styles and feel of the piece. We're never told where we are, but it's some sort of alternate universe 1940s America, with a lot that's very recognisable but things here and there that are completely alien. One of the latter is the mention of the Open Zone, in which our story takes place and from which characters aim to flee. The other is the neat little concept at the heart of the story and which provides its title. Alice, the leading lady, is a secret keeper, which is a profession in this world.

We watch how she works as the film begins, dealing with a client in such a way that invites a clear parallel with another profession. Alice works from home and her client feels nervous in even being there. It's his first time, apparently, and he's not sure how it all works. He's Calvin, but she doesn't need his name. She takes his money and asks him to wait for her in the bedroom. When she joins him, they can begin. No, she's not a prostitute, though she serves a similar purpose, to take care of a mental urge that has a physical manifestation. However, there's nothing sexual in the source of the urge or the way in which she satisfies it, making her more like a confessor, who can relieve burdens and allow people to move forward with their lives, happier with their secrets shared and not festering away inside. There's a literal transference, making Alice akin to a sin eater, but the secret doesn't stay in her; she's a physical conduit who transfers it on again into a glass jar.

I really liked this concept, that merges the world's oldest profession with perhaps its next oldest. There are ties to prostution beyond the clearly outlined parallels, in that secret keeping is hinted at not being a respected profession, perhaps one to which people come out of desperation and doubt, their visit a secret in itself. Yet there are continued parallels to the priesthood too, such as the ritual and litany of the event. 'Share this with me,' Alice asks each client to formally begin the process; 'Go and let the peace surround your soul,' she recites after it's over. This is an enticing concept and Sara Fletcher is magnificent in both aspects, simultaneously carnal and consecrated. Magnetically gorgeous even in dowdy attire, she would surely be the favourite in any brothel. Yet she carries herself impeccably, with a inherently trustworthy, almost holy air, making her a natural confessor. One client calls her a saint, but she prefers martyr.
What makes The Secret Keeper such a great film instead of just a great concept is that there's a strong story wrapped around it, unfolding consistently and believably over an unrushed eighteen minutes. I'm getting close to spoiler territory, so I'll be careful and merely say that another client comes to her with a secret to unburden which affects Alice directly and so tests her integrity as a secret keeper. With both prostitutes and confessors, there's a substantial level of trust inherent in the exchange and that's no different here. While there are clear sides drawn, with Alice the justified heroine, the underlying theme of the piece is Juvenal's old standard: 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' This literally means 'Who will guard the guards?' but, courtesy of Alan Moore, is more commonly translated nowadays as 'Who watches the watchmen?' The Latin for 'Who will keep the secrets of the secret keepers?' is remarkably similar: it just adds the word 'arcana' for 'secrets'.

This film really has everything. It starts with a great concept, which it fashions into a great story, courtesy of Fletcher and director Bears Fonté. Underneath it all is a great theme which keeps us thinking, not only about what we see but the ramifications of it. The production is pretty solid too, with Fletcher's acting most notable. The other two actors we see a good deal of are Ryan Mulkay and Rosalind Rubin, both of whom do solid work too, Mulkay looking especially right for the period. If there's a downside, it's the lighting. While it looks much better without projection issues, it aims at a muted palette in deference to the forties feel and some scenes play out in light that's a little too dim and with colours that are a little too faded. That's not much of a downside for a powerful short and I certainly now need to track down iCrime, a feature Bears Fonté wrote and directed in 2011 with Sara Fletcher in the lead. If it's half as good as this, I'll be impressed.

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