Review: The Secret Garden

Published January 11th 2016 | Tags: , , , ,

I recently had the pleasure of previewing The Secret Garden – an independently made spy thriller.  The film is inspired by the short story The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges, but transplants the themes and existential quandaries of that story into a CIA Cold War setting.

From the film’s website:

When terrorists are plotting a nuclear war, one spy must emerge as the only chance at saving the world from total annihilation.  Starring AJ Cross as Peter Sebastian, The Secret Garden brings back the classic spy movie in a new way- creating an iconic movie that keeps you guessing till the end.  When terrorists will stop at nothing to incite a global war, a lone spy must do everything to avert the greatest threat of all- a nuclear war- and must rise to the occasion or face the ultimate destruction.  Based on the short story The Garden of Forking Paths, The Secret Garden is an intense psychological thriller that is exciting from beginning to end- as Peter tries to track down terrorists, he must try not to lose his own sense of reality.

The Secret Garden is the brainchild of AJ Cross, who wrote, directed and starred in the film.  It includes a broad cast that are entertaining throughout, from the beautiful and emotive Kate Surinskaya as Barbara Callaway – Sebastian’s ‘Bond Girl’ and companion – to Brandon Despain as Albert Jaspers, the slick and ruthless villain at the head of the terrorist organisation.  My personal favourite was Vincent Leong as Jason Wang, CIA agent Sebastian’s counter in Chinese intelligence.  His performance is not only very funny at times but also quite captivating.  While not the most original characters in the world the trio of Russians Karlov, Boris and Vladimir are all suitably menacing and put our protagonist under frequent threat.

However, it is in Cross’s performance as Peter Sebastian that the most provocative and original elements reside.  While the more recent James Bond films and certainly the recent adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy contain sequences where the characters dwell on the moral and psychological torment of espionage, in The Secret Garden this is as much a part of the story as nuclear terrorism.  Instead of being distracted from these questions by exotic locales and flashy action sequences, The Secret Garden is quite static, almost documentary-style in its approach.  This allows for a greater exploration of the existential problems of international secret agents and agencies than I have seen in any other spy film.  Cross’s performance may take some audiences a little while to get used to but by the end of the film he develops a sympathetic, compelling character that deserves a sequel.

In general the film gets better as it goes along, and builds nicely towards its climax.  The closing shot of Peter looking up at Jaspers’ helicopter as it rises away from him is particularly poignant and dramatic. The film is a little drawn out at moments and you can tell there isn’t a huge amount of money or experience behind the production but at heart this is an intelligent and engaging film that offers something quite different to most spy movies.  I am interested to see how people respond to The Secret Garden and if you get the opportunity I do thoroughly recommend it.  It is due for release in May and if you would like to get updates about the film and where you can get to see it then visit the site and sign up via email or follow their facebook page here.

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