I am a big fan of the increase in First Nation and Indigenous-focused films that have been released in the last several years. With movies like Mohawk challenging how we view history, I was excited to watch THE SECRET OF SINCHANEE, which features a writer and director with lineage to the Weskarini Algonquin people of La Petite Nation in Quebec, Canada. There wasn’t much information to go on in regards to the synopsis, but I was pretty excited to see what it offered. However, I feel as though I set the bar too high to my own detriment.
THE SECRET OF SINCHANEE was written, directed and stars Steven Grayhm. If his face looks familiar, he is best known as being the rich part boy in the movie White Chicks. You can imagine my surprise when he came on the screen looking like a Target brand Leo DiCaprio (that is a compliment, by the way). Grayhm plays Will Stark, a tow truck driver with a troubled past and a wicked case of insomnia. After the sudden death of his father who had long been mentally ill, he is handed the keys to his childhood home. As he stays there, he finds the old demons of his past may not be in the past at all. There is also a B story about a detective (Tamara Austin), her detective ex-husband (Nate Boyer), their daughter (Laila Lockhart Kraner), and a couple of murders. Toss in a wise hermit (Rudy Reyes) and you have yourself a movie.
To be upfront, I didn’t care for this movie for a few reasons. The most glaring reason for my distaste is that the story needed to be streamlined badly. Grayhm had this to say about the film: “This is a deeply personal film that tackles incredibly challenging themes of xenophobia, childhood trauma, and mental health issues, testing the confines of the horror/thriller genre.”
I can see the notes of growing up with childhood trauma, but the touches of xenophobia and mental illness are so slight, that you barely even register it as part of the plot. It feels like for about 98% of the film nothing happens but, when something does, he tries to shove 2% of backstory, themes, and plot into the intense moments. And, to be quite frank, there weren’t very many of those. There is a story that aims to be a slow burn and then there is just moving so slowly it induces boredom. I was waiting for the elements of the movie that make people uncomfortable to discuss because that’s what makes people stop and think. But, when the credits rolled, I was still waiting.
THE SECRET OF SINCHANEE was pretty to look at and I will give the movie that. The filming quality and the atmosphere that was created made the film enjoyable to watch visually. The movie is said to be based in Massachusetts, which explains why at some point in the movie, a character was repeating a word in Algonquin, which was spoken by the Mohican people of the Northeast. During the crescendo of the film, the only part where we actually get to see any Indigenous or First Nation spiritual interaction, it seems so half-baked as if it was thrown in on a whim. After everything was over, I looked around my empty room and said aloud, “Wait, what just happened?” I am in no way knowledgeable of any traditions of Indigenous or First Nation peoples, and I do not have any ancestral connection, so if it was my own ignorance, then that is entirely possible and I give a sincere apology. But, looking at it in JUST the view of a film review, it was extremely lackluster.
The star actor award goes to Tamara Austin. For one scene in particular when she was a panicked mother, she did that part really well. Her scenes were the most interesting in the film. Grayhm was best at the quiet moments of just looking around and creating an eerie atmosphere and mostly, that was his purpose in the film. Reyes seemed so uncomfortable in his role as the one who brings all the pieces together that Austin outshined him in any scene they were in together. It’s anyone’s guess who the lead character of this movie is.
Overall, THE SECRET OF SINCHANEE was a visually beautiful and extremely boring film. It’s really well made but with overall mediocre acting and a story that branches in so many directions, you’ll still be lost when the credits roll.
THE SECRET OF SINCHANEE will be available in select theaters and on all major digital and cable platforms, including Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Comcast, Spectrum, Cox and more on October 8, 2021.
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