Fatal Secrets
Mildly Surprising

One of the exciting things about deliberately seeking out indie films is that you’re never quite sure what you’ll find.  Directors who either haven’t learned the medium’s conventions, don’t care about them, or deliberately flout them often keep you far more entertained and on the edge of your seat than know-it-alls who manage to do little more than deliver pat formulas.

Fatal Secrets is a perfect example.  First-time feature director Meir Sharony, in fact, manages something I don’t think I’ve seen before: delivering the film’s entire first act, in terrifically condensed form, during the film’s opening credit sequence!  If it hadn’t been for the titles, I’d have been convinced I was watching an alternate trailer for the film.

Classical storytelling style, going all the way back beyond Aristotle, who first described the method, dictates that the first third of the story provide expository information to gradually introduce the major characters—principally the story’s protagonist and antagonist—and establish the central conflict.  From there, the story builds its second act through “rising action” which culminates, in the third act, in the film’s climax, resolving the central conflict and tapering off through “falling action” in the denouement.

Lela Rochon and Dina Meyer as Sharlene and Julia in Fatal Secrets

By contrast, Sharony establishes the central conflict before any real storytelling even commences.  In short, and I do mean short, Julia, a recently-divorced successful author and bookseller, has a lunch date go really bad.  Self-help guru Scott Rivers rapes her in her own home, and Julia is so shocked and shamed that she immediately ruins any hope of legal recourse.  Having established this lickety-split, Sharony then languidly leads the audience toward the inevitable retributive showdown some 80 minutes or so later.

On the one hand, this short-hand treatment of storytelling convention and sexual brutality is both unsettling and off-putting.  On the other, it’s kind of nice watching a revenge movie that doesn’t use the threat of sexual violence as a tension-building device.  If you’re settling in with a bowl of popcorn to watch this film at home, in fact, it’s possible that you might not even catch the rape at all.  Hardly exploitative.  Startlingly refreshing.

The other advantage is that Sharony isn’t forced to rush any of the detective work that leads Julia and her friends Sharlene and Rebecca toward their confrontation with the villain.  But the plot isn’t so complicated (or even interesting) that there’s much to compel viewers to stick with the story, either—other than the fact that most women are going to relate very, very well to the backstories that Sharony’s script provides for this trio.  What Sharony has crafted here is a low-budget women’s answer to Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, in turn inspired by Crime and Punishment.  Is it possible to get away with murder?

Of course the list of stars that turn up here is also pretty impressive.  Dina Meyer, Lela Rochon, and Lea Thompson play Julia, Sharlene, and Rebecca, and all three are solid and most welcome presences.  Vincent Spano, who seems to never age, slimes his way through the film as Scott, while Ernie Hudson, Ed Begley Jr., and Tess Harper drop in for solid cameos.

It’s all entertaining enough and surprising enough to keep you watching.  And it might get you to think about a thing or two as well.  I, for one, was intrigued enough to go hunting for more information on Meir Sharony… and was led down an interestingly mysterious path there, as well.

Say no more.

Fatal Secrets is rated R for “language and some violence including a sexual assault.”  Yes, the language is there, and the climactic violence, too.  And the sexual assault.  But R is a little heavy.  Sharony doesn’t go for titillation here, and given his background in “tastefully explicit” sex therapy movies, he’s remarkably restrained.

Courtesy of the film’s distributor, Greg screened a promotional DVD of Fatal Secrets.