Released: 18th July
Seen: 5th August
I almost feel bad for taking so many cheap shots at Netflix and their original films. I’ve lambasted them, I’ve mocked them, I’ve put them on my “worst of” lists but I swear I don’t do it intentionally. Netflix probably makes the exact same amount of good and bad films as any other distributor… the catch is that a bad Netflix film is one you can only see on Netflix with a Netflix branded logo right up the top hammering home just where you saw it. I also don’t mind that they have bought so many subpar films, they have to do their best to try and outright own as much content as they possibly can since they’re having content pulled by their corporate partners who are trying to make their own service. Hell, they just lost all of Disney’s stuff while Disney prepared for Disney+, I can’t imagine that Fox properties will stay on there for long thanks to the Disney merger and CBS is pulling a ton of its stuff too in preparation for whatever they’re doing with their own platform. I get that Netflix is trying to maintain a large number of films and aren’t that fussy about the quality… but god damn I wish they’d maybe try a little harder to not pick up the scraps that fell off Lifetime’s table.
Secret Obsession is another in the long line of “Woman in peril because of a creepy man” movies that basically forms the entire basis of Lifetime TV movies. This time the woman in peril is Jennifer (Brenda Song), a young woman who does things and likes stuff but we’re never told what things she does or stuff she likes because by the time we get to meet her she’s already running away from a man with a knife and being hit with a car that gives her amnesia. In a convenient moment, her husband Russell (Mike Vogel) turns up to the hospital, despite no one calling him, and comes to take her home. But of course, things aren’t as they seem and Russell might be… a stalker, DUN DUN DUMB. So now Jennifer must go through trials and tribulations and limp out of a home that was clearly lifted straight out of Architecture Porno Monthly to try and get to safety and we’re meant to care about all this for some reason.
The problem is that we can’t care because we know nothing about Jennifer at all. I know her name, that she’s forgotten some things and that she has a sore ankle. That’s the extent of my knowledge about this character and it’s all we’re ever permitted to learn about her because anything extra might make her an actual character and if she was an actual character that would mean that we’d have to pay attention to the movie and this movie, like all Lifetime movies, is basically here just to be background noise while some bored househusband does the dishes and complains that she does all the work around the house. If Jennifer is a blank slate of a ‘character’, then Russell is basically just the concept of evil turned into something that technically resembles a person. He stomps around and is so clearly the bad guy that the second he popped up on the screen I went “Oh, you’re not the husband” because this film couldn’t be calling its shots any louder if it tried. Like, me saying Russell isn’t her husband would technically count as a spoiler… if they tried to hide that at any point.
It also doesn’t try to hide how limp its attempt at characterisation is. Not only do our leads not really have any characters (because both of them were pulled from the vat of Lifetime movie clichés) but the side characters have almost laughable attempts at characterisation. The only notable side character is Detective Frank Page (Dennis Haysbert) who we meet and learn that he has a missing child who he keeps buying toys for. Now, a good movie might try and use this as part of the character, maybe have the detective’s daughter actually be Jennifer or have her kidnapped and part of Russell’s plan or just have her dead and have him find her, something to make it a part of the larger narrative… notice how I said a good movie might try that? Yeah, I didn’t watch one of those, I watched Secret Obsession which has one scene of the detective crying about his missing daughter among a room of gift-wrapped toys, doesn’t mention that daughter at all for about 85 minutes of film and then has him donate the toys at the end of the film because apparently, he moved on but we don’t know how or when or why. It’s almost like it was a desperate attempt to make him into a character instead of just a generic detective that’s there because the story required a way to get a gun into Jennifer’s hand during the third act.
There is nothing about this film that feels even remotely realistic. From the insanely stupid opening scene where Jennifer hides from the killer in a bathroom stall (because, again, we open on her running from a bad guy because this film doesn’t care if we get to know her first. For crying out loud, at least Scream made me like Casey before they killed her!) to the fact that she somehow knows how to pick locks, to the stupid attempted escapes to just how blindingly obvious Russell is… hell, you know how Russell talks the hospital into believing he’s her husband? He shows them obviously photoshopped photos (as in, I said ‘that’s a photoshop’ the second they put it on camera) and identified a tattoo on her back. No paperwork, no fingerprinting, no one decided to maybe ask a single question. Nope, he has a photo where his head looks weird and he knows about her tattoo, therefore he must be her husband. Oh, that tattoo BTW is a clue about her last name because apparently, that’s a thing. Is that a thing? I know nothing about tattoos but according to this film, if you get a letter of the alphabet and a certain background it can be interpreted as a last name… they call it a heritage tattoo but it’s played so incredibly poorly that even if this is a real thing, it’s badly handled and just looks so convenient.
Secret Obsession is openly stupid. It doesn’t even really try to be anything different or special, it barely even tries to be a proper movie. With a predictable plot, useless characters, average score and acting that barely approaches adequate, there is absolutely nothing about this film that could really be recommended. It’s not even that it’s offensive or upsetting, everyone is competent but that’s about it. It doesn’t hurt to watch because hurting would imply that you felt something and we can’t have that. There are much better films out there about stalkers and creeps. Heck, there is an entire series on the same service called You, it does a similar story of an obsessive creep but it’s actually well-acted and fascinating, so go watch that instead and leave Secret Obsession as nothing more than a secret that isn’t worthy of being obsessed about.