A woman's husband, some years dead, turns out to have been alive & living a new life in Washington state.
As Secret Lives (2005) begins, the obsconded husband has recently been murdered. His widow Jill (Daphne Ziniga) sets out as an amateur detective to find out what her husband had been up to during those absent years, why he faked his death & abandoned her, & who killed him. The Hillbrook police are apparently so inept that an Oregon college professor/artist/widow can do the job better.
A pleasant dulcimer score makes the film sound like it's set in the Blue Ridge Mountains instead of the Pacific Northwest, & even at that everything about the visuals scream out "made in Canada!" rather than in Washnington or the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Funny how Canadian filmmakers want such a high percentage of their stories to be set in the USA with American characters (whether or not they're American actors). It's part world-power envy, & part a realization that a film's audience in the US will be limited if anyone foolishly expects parochial Americans to have the same interest in Canada & Canadians that Canadians have for us.
An insurance agent (Duncan Regehr, an artist as well as an actor, whose works appear in the film as Jill's paintings) is also following up on the old case. This is because her husband's faked death permitted him, it's believed, to swipe ten million company dollars. Five million of the original ten is still missing.
A second murder opens the possibility that our heroine could be next. If someone didn't get from the dead man whatever they were after, they might come after the widow, especially if she keeps sticking her nose into things.
Our heroine begins dating Mike the insurance agent, as this is kind of a "lady's detective romance" instead of a serious crime tale. All too obviously, however, Mike could be the villain, right? Girls always sleep with the enemy.
As a mystery Secret Lives is simpleminded, with pathetic excuses for "clues" sprinkled along the way, leading to the hidden millions. The aging actors have little or no sex appeal; they're fairly decent standard-issue television performers who do as good as can be expected for the average telefilm.
A climactic suspense sequence [SPOILERS ALERT!] has Jill sneaking into the room where the bad guy is swinging an axe. You'd sneak into a room knowing there was an axe murderer inside, wouldn't you? Well she would.
Mike's transformation from lover to gum-chewing stalker psycho is so at odds with the character we've gotten to know that the mere fact that he obviously had to be the bad guy all along is insufficient to explain this sudden personality change. [END SPOILER ALERT] The conclusion is in sum a stupid cheat.
Babysitter Michelle (Keri Russell) is nudged prematurely into the motherhood role after the unexpected suicide of Jennifer (Kristie Horton) who it turns out was actually murdered by her husband Bill (Stehpen Collins).
It starts out as a so-so whodunit, not that the viewer ever wonders who. Two police detectives (Phylicia Rashad & Tobin Bill turning in journeyman performances) are on the scent of dirty doings.
But the whodunit attributes of the film turn out to be padding rather than the point. [SPOILERS ALERT!] By the climax this little telefilm is not about the mystery & detecting but about a psycho killer ready for his next pretty victim. Michelle will find herself locked securely in a big house with a knife-wielding maniac.
Seedy, sleezy, formula-driven, yet surprisingly effective "for what it is." The cat & mouse game plays out with as much intrigue as "chase the girl with a knife" ever possesses. Michelle has a definite survivor spirit & Keri Russell is not playing her as a misogynous fantasy-victim but as a true heroine. That's not to say the film is in any manner significant, but as psycho killer films go, this one's effective.
Since it is not really about the murder mystery, the police arrive not in the nick of time, but fifteen seconds too late, so that the seemingly strangled & drowned girl can provide the "surprise!" ending that wouldn't surprise anyone who has ever seen a movie before. [END SPOILER ALERT]
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