Devouring and delivering minute by minute commentary on the latest Lifetime movie is pretty much a family pastime. This year Netflix has attempted to establish some footing in the battered woman overcomes the odds genre. One of its newer original films, Secret Obsession, proves that patented formula of predictably cheesy yet entertaining isn’t as easy as Lifetime makes it appear.
Initially things start off right. Woman falls in love. Woman gets pursued by a knife-wielding maniac. Woman manages to escape said maniac only to get hit by a car and lose her memory.
Fortunately for Jennifer (Brenda Song, The Social Network), her husband, Russell (Mike Vogel, She’s Out of My League), quickly makes it to the hospital ready to love her back to recovery. Let’s presume we’ve all seen a Lifetime movie before and know where this is going. If not, this is your last spoiler warning.
I’m curious if director/co-screenwriter Peter Sullivan and Kraig Wenman have actually been to a hospital in the last decade and understand the inner workings of the system. There is zero chance Jennifer would be able to get a bed in the hospital without her or Russell producing an insurance card. And most hospital guests have to show some form of ID. You know in case some crazy person came in claiming to be someone they’re not.
Thanks to the film’s brief run time — 97 minutes — there’s not much time before some red flags start popping up almost immediately. For starters, Russell isn’t too keen on responding to Det. Frank Page’s (Dennis Haysbert, 24) phone calls and he’s avoiding bringing Jennifer in for physical therapy on her badly damaged leg. And Russell has a convenient answer for why all of Jennifer’s relatives and friends haven’t been by to visit.
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Jennifer starts getting suspicious too and begins doing some investigations of her own. Song is decent as the amnesiac trying to make sense of the random flashbacks while acclimating to her life. Vogel makes a surprisingly effective dark turn as the overprotective husband, but it’s Haysbert who keeps the film together. I kinda hate that he’s in the C-level Netflix original phase of his career, but this is a case of an actor desperately infusing some credibility into every scene he appears regardless of the material.
Sullivan and Wenman can’t have Jennifer or Frank becoming too competent though until it’s time for the big payoff so they start making increasingly less sensible choices seemingly for the sole purpose of stringing out the suspense. Instead it has the opposite effect and Jennifer and Frank come off like morons who leave behind dumb clues or refuse to call in backup.
Another frustration is Sullivan and Wenman’s casual disregard for subplots and character logic. Frank has a backstory that’s casually mentioned and if you connect the very sparse dots you can see a very loose link, but it’s one that could have been so much better with more development.
One dead giveaway Secret Obsession isn’t a Lifetime movie? The unusually high and sloppy body count. Outside of shock value it’s hard to see why offing characters was necessary. One death in particular is confusing as it kills off a character whose purpose in the film was never explained beyond serving as a decoy for the killer. And the killer is just ridiculously sloppy leaving some victims tucked away in a trunk to rot while fresh victims get buried.
These deaths also rob the film of a satisfying conclusion. Maybe the lack of a happy ending is more realistic, but nothing else in the film sticks close to any form of logic so it’s odd the ending suddenly has to be based in reality.
Sullivan favors the hapless female protagonist take on these thrillers so Jennifer has to scream and otherwise lack a survival instinct until the finale. At least the bum leg provided some reason as to why she couldn’t escape easily.
Secret Obsession is dumber than it needs to be and lacks the cheesy charm of your standard Lifetime heroine in peril film.