I almost wanted to give this movie a “What the F—?” rating because I think I might be traumatized for life after this one. I’ve categorized Secret Ceremony as both drama and horror because frankly I could not figure out if this was supposed to be frightening or just a creepy drama. At first I regretted reading the Dish Network synopsis that described the movie as “a London hooker looks like a girl’s late mother and the girl looks like the hookers late daughter.” I wondered if I would have been able to disseminate what was happening without that hint, but truly, I would not have known Elizabeth Taylor was meant to portray a prostitute without it. The movie is also less about Mia Farrow‘s resemblance to Taylor’s daughter who drowned at age six than Taylor being a dead ringer for Farrow’s mother.
After Farrow’s Cenci lures Taylor’s Leonora back to her shuttered mansion where she lives all alone, Farrow quickly becomes convinced that Taylor is her mother. Finding herself in luxury, Taylor too quickly decides to go along with the ruse, feigning an English accent and talking as though she had been there all along.
Farrow is unrelentingly creepy with her pale skin and black wig making for many chilling shots. She behaves as a child despite (as we later learn) being 22. She reenacts portions of her former and possibly sane life in private, including a disturbing conversation with an empty chair dating back to when her step-father groped her at age 16. That step-father, played by Robert Mitchum, reappears in incestuous pursuit of Cenci and convinces her to give up her virginity. She then plays pregnant leading Leonora to instantly go along with the ruse. The girl does eventually snap free of her lunacy after a second role in the sand with her step-father and rejects Leonora. The film ends in “tragedy” but the characters are so unrelatable that I could not have cared less. The conclusion is not necessarily predictable but not original either.
Taylor does give a fantastic performance but the character is such a far cry from normalcy it does not really shake me. Secret Ceremony (the title for which totally escapes me) came in the middle of her career after a couple Oscar wins and the star’s establishment as an international glamor icon. Farrow, who was 23 but similar to her character easily played a adolescent, was in only her third role, with Cenci coming before the also creepy Rosemary and Sarah in the previously reviewed See No Evil.
I did some searching online to try to find an explanation for this dreadful nightmare of a movie, but did not come up with much besides the reviews being mixed, with positive remarks referencing Taylor’s performance. If anyone can shed some light on this and perhaps settle the angst I have suffered, please do.