Having seen November and Kratt I was aware that there is an Estonian film industry, but until The Sixth Secret came my way I wasn’t aware of writer/director/actor/ Mart Sander (Eerie Fairy Tales, Behind the Random Denominator) and his prolific output. After seeing this I’m surprised his films haven’t gotten more notice.
The Sixth Secret opens sometime in the 1920s as a pair of London police officers attend to a car accident apparently caused by an escaped lion named Justice. Without explanation it then shifts to a mansion where a group of strangers, including Lady X (Eha Urbsalu, Men in Black 3, The Point of Betrayal), Alfred Arnheim (Gregory Defleur, Wolf Game), and Edwin Bonpree (Ben Walton-Jones, The Kennedy Incident) have been gathered for a reading by noted psychic Madame Orlofsky (Triin Lellep, Duubel 13, The Prince).
More of the guests straggle in and they are an odd assortment, including, much to Lady x’s disgust a working-class couple, Mr. (Jim Sebastian Sharman, Dawn of War) and Mrs. Bramley (Michelle Saarenoja-Hayes, The Grump). There’s also, to everyone’s dismay, the uninvited and overly aggressive Worseley (Max Marcq, The Bike Thief, When the West is Done with You). At the stroke of midnight, Madame Orlofsky descends the stairs and announces that three secrets are about to be revealed. As we know from the title, much more than that that will be revealed.
If all of this sounds like an Agatha Christie adaptation, you’re not far off. Sander apparently binged on her novels before writing The Sixth Secret and I’m willing to bet he read 10 Little Indians more than once in the process. The elegant mansion and period setting also bring to mind the “Old Dark House” films of the 20s and 30s as well as the works of British studios such as Hammer and Amicus at their prime. For that matter, Mario Bava may also cross your mind before the credits roll as well.
Sander has however given The Sixth Secret a modern edge with plenty of extremely dark humor alternating with the film’s mystery and potentially supernatural elements. And that helps make what could have been seen as a stuffy, old-fashioned premise feel a lot more relevant to today’s audience.
And the various secrets that are revealed do have an old-fashioned edge to them. There’s an heir who isn’t who they think they are, and coincidentally his real mother is in attendance. A fatal illness. Someone whose motives for speaking to the dead cover a deadly secret, etc. And it’s the presentation of those secrets that keeps The Sixth Secret interesting until the first death. And then things really start to get interesting.
The performances are good across the board, something that had me a bit concerned. The cast is all unknowns, and despite being an Estonian film it was shot in English. Apart from some issues with accents, the characters are a mix of English, American, and Russian, everyone was quite convincing. Which they needed to be to sell the twists and counter twists that the script delivers in the film’s second half.
Unfortunately, a trio of extended flashbacks meant to deliver some exposition instead derail the film’s narrative and slow the pace down rather badly. The first one especially needed to be streamlined as it goes on much too long. The second would have benefited from writing that took better advantage of what is being revealed. The third is just redundant, but it does let the director make a cameo.
Still, that’s a small issue in what is, overall a very enjoyable film. The Sixth Secret is a fun and charming thriller, the kind we don’t get to see very often these days.