The Secret

The Secret


Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite

Having begun his directorial career with the romantic comedy Joni’s Promise, director Joko Anwar’s sophomore effort is a masterful noir thriller which showcases his versatility. Using the noir genre to frame his tale of buried secrets, supernatural horrors and government corruption, Anwar has boldly broken with tradition and freed himself from the genre restrictions of his native Indonesian cinema.

Located in an unnamed republic of south-east Asia, the film has an unlikely hero in the shape of narcoleptic journalist Janus (Fachri Albar) who, during the course of an investigation into the brutal burning of five men by a violent mob, accidentally becomes privy to the location of an unnamed secret. Hidden, “at Bendonowongso Hill, before the seven-step temple…" lies a secret which threatens the very foundations of the republic – a secret with the power to kill.

Copy picture

Indeed, only a few moments after the secret location is first divulged to Janus, the woman who gave away the secret is brutally murdered while crossing the road, sparking a spate of killings, as those who learn of the secret location are systematically eradicated. The disclosure of the secret also leads to the appearance of a mysterious and menacing supernatural apparition, who seems to be intimately connected with both the secret and the killings, in each case appearing to the victim just before they go to meet their maker.

The other strand of the film’s narrative concerns Eros (Ario Bayu), a gay police detective also investigating the deaths of the five men torched by the mob in the film’s opening sequence. Throughout the first half of the film his path does not cross with that of the journalist, but when Janus is taken into police custody following the death of a friend, events conspire to unite the two men in the same quest. They seek to unravel the link between the secret and the murders, trying to avoid the terrible fate which threatens all those who learn the secret. Unfortunately for them the disclosure of the secret location seems to have unleashed a host of other interested parties, all of whom are intent on destroying the competition.

The unspecified location gives the director a freedom and licence for political and social comment which he uses to great effect, encompassing a range of themes from the dangers of mob justice in the opening scene, through to political corruption and the nature of the dynamic between the people and the State, woven together with a potent mythology which adds a universal dimension to the story. Although the presence of the supernatural occasionally threatens to derail the underlying socio-political themes, it is also one of Anwar’s greatest weapons in generating the mystique and dramatic tension which make this such an effective piece of noir cinema.

The director successfully uses the trademarks of the genre to his advantage, intelligently building the tension with his innovative use of light and shade, aided by a top-notch score which includes an impressively menacing dissonant string ensemble signalling the appearance of the supernatural apparition. Anwar’s command of his storyline is exemplary throughout, but my personal highlight was the thrilling game of cat-and-mouse just before the film’s climax, in which the numerous interested parties are converging on the secret location. Government agents are being followed by high-ranking corrupt officials, who are in turn being followed by those who would keep the secret safe. In this thrilling finale Anwar develops a growing vein of paranoid hysteria which continues to spiral out of control as the plot twists and turns and the body count rises.

A film which deserves to bring international plaudits for its director, The Secret is a stylish, gripping movie; a visual and aural treat, whose complex and intelligent plot will keep you hooked to the very end.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2008
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Film noir sees a journalist get wind of a location of "a secret" with the power to kill.

Director: Joko Anwar

Writer: Joko Anwar

Starring: Fachri Albar, Ario Bayu, Shanty, Fahrani, Arswendi Nasution, Agust Melasz, Frans Tumbuan

Year: 2007

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Indonesia


London 2008

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