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These two films couldn’t be more different and I liked them both– one in spite of its being outright awful and ridiculous, the other because it pretty much accomplished what it set out to do.

THE SECRET: DARE TO DREAM stars Katie Holmes as a down-on-her-luck widow named Miranda raising three kids when she literally runs into a handsome stranger named Bray in the person of Josh Lucas who has a dreamy glint in his eye and a zen way with words. He instantly agrees to fix her leaky roof, stays for dinner when a storm breaks, and knows exactly what to say to her well-mannered but just troublesome enough kids to be borderline believable: sweetly sullen 16 year-old “Missy” and cherubic-faced little brother Greg. If you didn’t know better, you’d think this guy was, perhaps, a serial killer. But nothing that untoward is part of this universe. Neither death nor hurricane, a meddling mother-in-law or mounting bills takes the pleasant edge off the world of these characters. Miranda’s boyfriend Tucker played by Jerry O’Connell is no exception, and never quite gets his dander up around the handsome interloper. Even though Miranda is broke, her house remains in shabby chic disarray, and is located on an idyllic waterfront property with its own dock. Everything falls cutely into place as we know it will and must with a little jerry-rigging of logic, very little of the wounding messiness of human interactions, and heavy reliance on a theory of the universe embedded in the best-selling self-help book series by Rhonda Byrne on which it is based and doled out in regular dollops throughout: know what you want and you will attract it, like a magnet. Too bad this film didn’t attract a decent script.

However, now, when the world is particularly fraught on all fronts this is a very soothing message. It’s a saccharine, by-the-numbers hunk of wish-fulfillment fantasy — and I enjoyed every ridiculous, predictable minute of it. (I did squirm at Josh Lucas’s laid-on-thick laid back charm.) Forgive me. Put this under JK GUILTY PLEASURE.

Available July 31 on all VOD platforms including AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, and cable providers.

On the other hand THE RENTAL is a frightening frolic through moral failure and psychopathic bloodlust, with a side trip through jealousy, voyeurism, xenophobia, cheating and recreational pharmaceuticals at a cliffside hideaway, with enough suspense to keep me on edge. “The Rental” takes a look at the underside of 4 characters who decide to rent a vacation house together. How much do I love this set-up! Put four complicated people with built-in antagonisms and festering secrets alone together for a weekend and let the games begin. Throw in a sprawling luxurious house, a creepy rental owner, a suspense-filled script and direction executed by a credible cast and you’re just about there. Here “Downton Abbey’s” Dan Stevens, “Mad Men’s” Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White mix it up with surly caretaker Toby Huss. One look at him, and I would have been out of there. But then–I would have gotten a flat tire and had to walk back through the woods alone to call a cab that would never come…

Luckily, this film takes its time ratcheting up the tense interplay among this prickly foursome, before falling prey to the obvious horror film tropes. As the fog rolls in you won’t escape its insinuating pull, and there is at least one character I could always identify with who seemed to be thinking clearly most of the time–but will it save her? I longed for a few more twists and turns before the action devolved into the concrete inevitable. Even so, it held me right through the credits, and did confound most of the usual expectations, including what happens to the mutt that tags along for this joyride. See THE RENTAL for a scary diversion from the scariness of real life these days.

Check out where to watch this IFC release at home here.

Movies – Sweet & Sour: “The Secret: Dare to Dream”/”The Rental” was last modified: by

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