Warning: This post has spoilers for Secret Obsession.
Secret Obsession, out on Netflix July 18, is the movie equivalent of a beach read. Even if it's not expressly good, it's simply unputdownable. Luckily, it only takes an hour and 37 minutes to learn what's really going on with Jennifer Williams (Brenda Song) and Russell Williams' (Mike Vogel) very happy — or happy seeming — marriage.
Secret Obsession begins with a moment that Jennifer will never remember. While running away from a knifed assailant, Jennifer gets hit by a car. Somehow, she wakes up in a hospital bed —and she doesn't remember a thing.
Russell, her doting husband, is there to fill in the blanks. He's by her side when she wakes up. He patiently cheers her on through every step of her recovery, including her actual first steps on a healing foot. He retells their relationship origin story. He exudes "perfect man" vibes. But as pop culture precedent has established, if a man seems too perfect, then he's probably hiding something. What is Russell keeping from Jennifer? Turns out, a whole lot!
When she's released from the hospital, Russell whisks Jennifer away to their rural mansion. Much like a Bachelorette contestant, Jennifer is trapped in a California mansion without access to phone, internet, or entertainment, and her whole existence revolves around a generically good-looking white dude.
Meanwhile, Detective Frank Page (Dennis Haysbert) is following his nose, because he smells something fishy. There are simply too many lingering pieces in Jennifer's case. Who dropped Jennifer off at the hospital? Why does she have defensive wounds on her wrist? Frank and Jennifer simultaneously figure things out — and they come to these conclusions. Let's unspool the lies of Secret Obsession.
But first, let's go over the story according to Russell.
We begin Secret Obsession knowing as much as Jennifer, which is nothing at all. Since she has amnesia, she's extremely vulnerable to believing Russell's stories. For a while, we believe them too.
According to Russell, they met at work. After they got married, Jennifer quit her job and moved to Russell's family mansion, located over a mile away from the nearest neighbor. Apparently, all of her friends are in Hawaii, and her parents died in a fire. But Jennifer is going to get less lonely soon, don't worry — they're trying to start a family.
At first, Russell is accommodating and loving. But something's off with his behavior. Women don't have a spidey-sense, but they do have predator-sense. Jennifer's is going off even if he insists they're happy.
What's the first sign that we shouldn't trust Russell?
The first subtle clue arrives when Russell cuts his finger while chopping a carrot. The convergence of Russell, a knife, and blood in one frame is not a coincidence.
Soon after, Russell's villainy upgrades from eerie foreshadowing to waving a big 'ol red flag. Russell visits Jim Kahn (Paul Sloan), a crime scene witness who spoke to the detective, and murders him. Why would Jennifer's husband want to murder someone who saw what happened to her? Maybe because he was involved, you loony toons!
Who is Russell's first murder victim?
Ignore all the sinister music that plays whenever Jim Kahn shows up on screen. It's a red herring meant to distract us from the more immediate menace: Russell himself. Apparently, Jim really just is a concerned party, as he claims to the hospital attendant. Too bad he never gets to share his story.
If Russell is lying, then what's the truth?
All we can say is poor Jennifer! It is dangerous to be a woman in the world.
Jennifer really did meet her husband, Russell, at work. But the Russell we've met isn't the real Russell (Daniel Booko) – he's a man named Ryan Gaerity. Ryan was Russell and Jennifer's strange former colleague who recently got fired for breaking his boss's nose.
Ryan had a crush on Jennifer. Just like Paris did with Helen, he mistook having a crush on someone as permission to possess them. "I spent years getting to know you, getting to understand you. And all for the great Russell Williams to come along and take what was mine," Ryan says, seething.
So, Ryan took what's "his" back. One evening, he burst into Jennifer and Russell's home and murdered Russell. He had previously murdered Jennifer's parents, but Jennifer doesn't know that yet. After the intrusion, Jennifer drives away to the nearest rest stop, where Ryan tracks her down. She tries driving away, but her car is now attached to his white pick-up truck.
Ryan would have murdered Jennifer, too, had the the car crash not changed his plans. Now that she was amnesiac, he could then just gaslight her into happiness (and submission). How efficient.
When did this all happen?
You want to talk about how the movie's timeline makes no sense? Fine, be logic-oriented like that! Frank discovers Jennifer's parents' bodies rotting in their bed. They are way too decayed to just have been murdered. They are practically mummified. Someone in their lives would have come to find them before they got to that state.
What's the deal with the white pick-up truck?
The detective fixates on the white pick-up truck seen at the scene of the accident. Ultimately, it's not so important — but it does connect Ryan to the accident. He drives the truck to the hospital.
Ryan typically drives a black Jeep in public. The white truck turns up outside the garage. But he also has Jennifer's blue sedan in his garage, with a body (likely the real Russell) in the back.
What happens in the end of Secret Obsession?
There's a prolonged cat-and-two-mice sequence between Ryan, Jennifer, and the detective. They all end up in the woods outside the house. Jennifer ultimately kills Ryan with a gun.
So, Jennifer is safe – but is she okay?
Secret Obsession is not concerned with the long-term ramifications of trauma; that's Stranger Things' domain. Jennifer has lost her parents, her husband, and her past. She woke up in a villains' lair. She killed a man.
She ends the movie by driving into the future, holding a note from her actual husband. One can only imagine how conversations about her relationship history on first dates will go.
Where does one go from here? Can we trust anyone?
Per the events of this movie, the clear answer is no. Ryan was just some random guy from Jennifer's office. She never showed any romantic interest in him. Still, he decided to ruin her life. And most people are Ryans, in the sense that fall into the category of "no romantic connection." The audacity!
Any suggestions for keeping safe in this dangerous world?
If someone who's basically a stranger calls you "sweetheart," run in the other direction.