In Secret (2013) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content and brief violent images
Running Time: 101 min.
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Jessica Lange, Tom Felton, Shirley Henderson
Director: Charlie Stratton
Screenplay: Charlie Stratton
Review published February 23, 2014
Directed and adapted by first-time feature film helmer Charlie Stratton ("Faux Baby"), In Secret is a racy (but not explicit) film interpretation of the 1991 Neal Bell play based on the naturalist 1867 novel, "Therese Raquin" (Therese had been this movie's original title in film festival release), written by Emile Zola. It's a period drama with noir-ish thriller elements, with a plot that has been lifted by many modern thrillers, sadly, to the point where such a story seems obsolete.
Set in 19th Century France, Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy, Kill Your Darlings) stars as Therese, who was dumped by her traveling father in the care of her manipulative aunt, a well-off widow named Madame Raquin (Lange, Broken Flowers), and her aunt's son, the very sickly cuckold Camille (Felton, Rise of the Planet of the Apes). After growing up together, the aunt coerces Therese into marrying cousin Camille, later relocating to Paris.
Camille proves to be uninterested in physical love, which leaves repressed Therese to vivid fantasies unfulfilled, until she meets longtime family friend Laurent LeClaire (Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis), a Parisian painter who spends time in the home for a portrait of Camille. The two form an instant carnal chemistry that sees them engage in an adulterous affair right in Madame Raquin's very house. However, when Camille mentions moving away from Paris, the two find themselves conspiring to keep their affair going at any cost, even if the price is murder.
As far as period pieces go, In Secret is a good looking film, with some very good costume work and use of exterior locales. Natural lighting is used often, which gives the film a dark and eerie look befitting the subject matter contained within. A good cast is in the mix, setting up the potential for a very good drama and murder plot. The final third of the film is where the best material is, as we see the psychological schisms that have formed in this once perfect relationship, now that guilt comes into play. Unfortunately, we're Stratton hasn't been able to get us to relate to these characters much, and we're not implicated into their plot's success like a true suspense flick would do. This leads to a lack of interest in their fate when push starts coming to shove and something finally has to give way.
In order for this crimes of passion flick to work, we need to be invested in the actual "passion" of the main players. Unfortunately, though wide-eyed Olsen and deflected-gazing Isaac are competent actors, their love affairs doesn't ignite the screen with unbridled feelings of intense lust. Olsen tries to look occasionally out of breath whenever something she finds titillating is seen or heard, but these moments come across as somewhat obvious to the point of absurdity, such as a scene in which her body begins writhing orgasmically on the ground as she spies on a burly farmer using a scythe in a rhythmic fashion. As an erotic thriller period piece, Stratton fails to make what we see erotic or thrilling.
As a psychological study on the effects on guilt and remorse, In Secret has some interesing things to say. If only those things didn't come too late to matter much anymore, and if Strattont could have implicated the audience in the deceit, perhaps this film would be worthy of a recommendation, rather than viewed as a nicely presented misfire. Hitchcock this is not.
©2014 Vince Leo