Sometimes the best location for a movie is a basement.
You don't need exotic locales or sprawling mansions if the people in the story are interesting. In "The Secrets We Keep," the subterranean claustrophobia is an asset.
Admittedly, this basement holds an unusually tense situation. It's been 15 years since World War II has ended on the battlefield, but the conflict's impact is still being felt. Maja (Swedish actress Noomi Rapace from the original "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") and her husband Lewis (Chris Messina) have a comfortable life in a small, unnamed factory town.
He's working as a doctor, treating veterans who've come back with life-changing injuries. His wife has war wounds of her own, but they aren't visible. Lewis married her in Europe shortly after the war, not knowing that she and her family were victims of Nazi atrocities. He knows that she's Roma or Gypsy, but Lewis has hardly any sense of what the Nazis did to people like his wife.
That may be why he's understandably alarmed when he finds out that she's got a pipefitter (fellow Swede Joel Kinnaman) from the factory named Thomas stuffed in the trunk of the family car. As unlikely as it might seem, she claims that his real name is Karl and that he's part of the group that murdered her sister and raped her.
They take him down to the basement, but the captive claims that he's actually Swiss and that he never even saw the war. He'd also like to go back to his wife (Amy Seimetz) and forget what he claims is a case of mistaken identity.
It's a given that Rapace can play characters who've lived through Hell without overdoing it. Israeli director Yuval Adler, who co-wrote the script with Ryan Covington, keeps audiences guessing as to whether she's trying to live out a revenge fantasy or whether good old 1950s sexism is preventing her husband and others around her from seeing the obvious.
Kinnaman effortlessly switches from groveling to hinting at just enough menace to make him a believable Nazi thug. The heart of the film, however, is Messina's Lewis. Having only served in the medical corps, Lewis has never seen combat or pillaging, so he's not sure how too deal with his wife's sudden aggression. He has no idea if she's simply got "nerves" or if she has really found one of her assailants. Messina consistently surprises and makes Lewis a far more interesting character than he initially appears.
The setup for "The Secrets We Keep" is similar to Ariel Dorfman's play "Death and the Maiden," which was adapted into a solid film by Roman Polanski. Because of the familiarity, some of the suspense is muted. In addition, Adler and Covington's ending seems just a little pat. Because Maja and Lewis live in a small town, keeping a potential Nazi in their basement is probably impossible because everyone in the town literally knows everyone else.
Fortunately, Messina's character is more dynamic and sketched out than the husband in the Polanski film. When you have three loose cannons in a basement instead of two, the possibility for danger is far greater.
‘The Secrets We Keep’
83 Cast: Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Chris Messina, Amy Seimetz, Jackson Dean Vincent, Madison Paige Jones, Jeff Pope, David Maldonado, Ed Amatrudo
Director: Yuval Adler
Rating: Rated R for strong violence, rape, some nudity, language and brief sexuality
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes