Secret Obsession, now streaming on Netflix, made me wonder in earnest how hard it would be to pretend to be someone’s spouse. That it prompted such a dark train of thought (to be clear, hello FBI, I would never do this) has less to do with how common the trope is (Before I Go to Sleep, Overboard) and more to do with the way that movies that don’t have much going for them will often invite a lot of extra thought on seemingly key questions they fail to address.
This is also true of, say, the new Lion King, which, through having been converted into something of a slog, invites new inspection of whether or not Simba and Nala are actually related, among other things. In the case of Secret Obsession which, as you may have guessed, is a psychological thriller in which a woman, suffering short term memory loss after an accident, begins to realize that the life she believes to be hers may not be all that it seems.
Directed by Peter Sullivan, Secret Obsession does pretty much exactly what you expect it to, and presumably what you want it to, if you watched the brief preview clip while browsing Netflix and then decided that, yes, you would like to hit play. As the film opens, Jennifer (Brenda Song) is seen fleeing an unseen assailant in the middle of the night, only to be hit by a car when she runs into the street. At the hospital, her loving husband Russell (Mike Vogel) appears, caring for her until she’s ready to continue her convalescence at their conveniently secluded, out-of-the-reach-of-cell-service home.
Jennifer (Song) peers around a door.
As time passes, however, clues seem to suggest that Russell isn’t exactly who he says he is. The funniest of these are poorly photoshopped photos, which, in any other movie, would just be accepted for what they are. Of course these actors aren’t married — why bother taking real photos when a few can just be photoshopped together? In Secret Obsession, however, they’re a pivotal clue, as a slip in one of the photos around the house is one of the things that alerts Jennifer to something being wrong.
The rest of the film unfolds exactly how you’d expect — the only thing coming even close to being a wild card is Dennis Haysbert’s hapless detective, Frank Page, whose thirst for justice has become all-consuming ever since he failed to find his young daughter’s kidnapper. Now, he pours himself into his cases, while keeping boxes of unopened presents for his deceased daughter in his closet. He’s easily the strangest (and thereby most interesting) part of the film — he uses his daughter’s former unicorn light as a flashlight, for instance — though, regrettably, he’s not given that much room to play around.
Whenever he’s not on-screen, it’s hard not to return to that question: How hard would it be, really, to pull off this kind of crime? (Again, I would not do this, and you should also not do this. “The lady doth protest too loudly,” you might say. Fair, but seriously, I wouldn’t.) As far as Secret Obsession is concerned, it seems to be pretty easy, apart from a little murder. All it seems to require is a little skill with Photoshop and remembering that you now have to answer to a different name.
There’s so little to really chew on in Secret Obsession that, unless you’re watching it while completing some other chore, you’ll find yourself pondering the same question. There’s some rumination on the stereotypical “nice guy” and toxic masculinity, but it’s less effective when the man in question is most likely a murderer, and when the same themes have been carried out so many times before, and so much more effectively. Overall, it’s unremarkable — even as a jumping-off point for a morbid thought exercise.