Running from the Enemy

Joanna Kerns in Going Underground (1993) (aka: Shameful Secrets)

"Going Underground" is also known as "Shameful Secrets" and if you go looking for a synopsis the chances are you will find one which mentions a battered wife is forced to take her kids and go on the run from her abusive husband. Whilst that is the framework for this movie it is only a vehicle for what ends up a drama which brings together everything we know and some things we don't about battered women. Now technically that means that "Going Underground" struggles as a movie as it fails to stay focussed on the main story as it pulls in as many cliches as possible to the point it feels too manufactured. But at the same time I find myself not being able to knock this movie completely because by including as many cliches as it can it may actually end up helping someone.

To everyone Maryanne (Joanna Kerns - Emma's Wish) and Daniel (Tim Matheson - Fletch) along with their children seem a happy family, but behind closed doors things are very different. Daniel is an abusive and violent husband who snaps at the slightest thing and deals out brutal beatings on Maryanne with Maryanne stepping in to prevent her children from being hurt. After the latest beating puts her in hospital for a few days Maryanne returns to find Daniel has changed the locks and thrown her out, not allowing her to see the children forcing Maryanne to take seek shelter and take desperate measures.

Tim Matheson in Going Underground (1993) (aka: Shameful Secrets)

So as I said the actual story to "Going Underground" that of an abused wife forced to take desperate steps to protect herself and her children ends up being a very slim vehicle. For most it seems to take a back seat in favour of including as many battered women elements as it can. It means that it is a misleading movie and those who come to watching "Going Underground" because of what it sounds like should be warned to expect something different.

Now as to that something different, well "Going Underground" comes across like the writers have taken every aspect of abusive husband and battered wife cases and combined them into one movie which ends up making it feel manufactured. We get elements of the wife defending the kids, defending the husband, the cycle of abuse as Maryanne learns a secret about her mum, her son turning violent like his father and a heck of a lot more. It is too much because it makes the storyline feel too manufactured yet as I said I just hope that somehow by including every battered wife and family cliche going that this may help someone. And in fairness not only is some of what we hear highly disturbing but also seeing how hard it is for a battered wife to get control of their life and family via legal means.

Despite it feeling manufactured "Going Underground" is buoyed by good performances with Joanna Kerns doing a good job of detailing the abuse and the difficulties of starting over. When we hear what Maryanne tells the other battered women in a group session it is sickening not just because of what we hear but also by how Joanne sells it. At the other end you have Tim Matheson who plays an utter monster, a controlling, jealous, irrational and despicable monster who whilst being maybe a bit too manufactured is a scary being. But there is also a good performance from Justin Isfeld as their son Jason and from seeing him trying to block out the noise of hearing his mum being beaten to when he ends up with a black eye from his father it is a strong and touching performance.

What this all boils down to is that "Going Underground" doesn't work as the movie it makes itself out to be. But as a look at all the various aspects of abuse both physical, psychological as well as the legal system it has the potential to help someone who might be in a similar situation.

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