❉ Estonian filmmaker Mart Sander’s polished, playful new film veers between black comedy and sinister menace writes Nick Clement.
“Sander’s witty film recalls classic Hammer horror efforts, as well as Agatha Christie’s 10 Little Indians, except with some very modern touches, and played up with a slick sense of speed, with small, artful moments which recall classic cinema, and yet point towards something fresh and progressive”
Writer-director Mart Sander (The Whores, The Kennedy Incident) has created his own cottage industry within the Estonian filmmaking community, recruiting a familiar ensemble of actors and actresses, and typically serving in a multi-faceted capacity between handling musical scores and sound work and editing, in order to get his stories told in the exact fashion that he wants to tell them.
His latest effort, The Sixth Secret, is a straight-up genre piece, a spooky-séance story involving a group of strangers who are summoned one fateful night, by a mysterious woman (naturally…), for an experience that might in fact turn out to be otherworldly. Sander, who in his previous work has demonstrated a strong sense of tonal command, goes back and forth between black comedy and sinister menace all throughout, which further demonstrates his confidence as a storyteller.
Sander’s witty film recalls classic Hammer horror efforts, as well as Agatha Christie’s 10 Little Indians, except with some very modern touches, and played up with a slick sense of speed, with small, artful moments which recall classic cinema, and yet point towards something fresh and progressive. The various strangers who are attending the séance couldn’t be any more different from one another, and yet, their linkage will soon be understood. And when the bodies start to hit the floor, suspicions run amok, with everyone having a hard time of figuring out who they can, or should, trust. The alluring actress Triin Lellep makes for a dark and sexy medium, and when she tells the group that five secrets will be revealed before the clock strikes midnight, the film takes on a more ominous yet still playful trajectory, with an ending that should come as a surprise to most.
Part of the fun with a playful item like The Sixth Secret is not revealing too much for the audience before they encounter the story, because the element of mystery is certainly at play here, and also because the performances deftly hide any of the twists that pop up in the narrative. Ben Walton-Jones, who starred for Sander in The Kennedy Incident, gives another strong performance as one of the polished guests, as does the commanding Gregory Defleur, with the latter really projecting an old-timey vibe and quality that’s in perfect tandem with all of the period genre trappings. The very photogenic Eha Urbsalu, Max Marcq, and Siret Tuula round out the solid ensemble, with Sander popping up (as usual) for a quick cameo. All of the players were clearly having fun with their roles and the material in general, and because Sander’s tight script never wastes a moment, the fast pace to the proceedings is very much felt.
Cinematographer Jaan Kalmus Jr. makes the most out of confined spaces and a mostly single-set location, and conjures up a couple of exquisitely composed shots, while overall, the film has been bathed in a frosty-blue glow that is quite appealing. Sander’s peppy and spirited musical score hits all of the appropriate aural notes depending on the mood of each scene; from project to project, it’s been fascinating to see how Sander’s talents have blossomed in each department of the filmmaking process. Currently set to play the film festival circuit in 2022, The Sixth Secret is one to look out for in the future.
❉ ‘The Sixth Secret’ (2022) receives its festival premiere at HÕFF 2022, Haapsalu, Estonia, on Saturday 30 April, and comes to theatres worldwide later this year.
Written and directed by Mart Sander. Cast: Greg de Fleur, Ben Walton-Jones, Triin Lellep, Eha Urbsalu, Max Marcq, Siret Tuula, Aarne Soro, Michelle Hayes, Jim Sebastian Sharman, Mart Sander. Running time: 1h 30m. Language: English. A FilMinistry Production.
❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott.