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IN SECRET (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon, William Horberg
Written by Charlie Stratton
Based on Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola
Directed by Charlie Stratton
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Oscar Isaac, 
Jessica Lange, Matt Lucas, Shirley Henderson, Mackenzie Crook

In Secret, based on the novel, Thérèse Raquin, is a tragic love affair that takes place in 1860s Paris.

Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) is trapped with her overbearing aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange) and sickly cousin, Camille (Tom Felton). The plot unravels after the cousins marry and move to Paris.  There, Therese meets Camille’s childhood friend, Laurent, and a steamy affair begins.

In Secret is easy to follow as it’s a formulaic French tale (sexy, dramatic, and depressing), but the obvious sets, not-so-subtle foreshadowing, and repetitive scenes weaken the intensity it’s striving for.

The production feels staged and comes across far more like a play than a movie.

Which is fine, just not my thing.

I believe an objective was to illustrate the ill fate of sexually repressed women at the time, but the message was lost amidst the indifferent tone. The sadness was sad, but not that sad, and the humorous moments made me chuckle, but weren’t that funny.   

Viewers who enjoy period pieces should be entertained, but not impressed. It’s a challenge to make period pieces resonate (especially without war). So In Secret, while sensuous and well intended, remains a bit underwhelming.

The characters are tragedies of moral ambiguity.

They personify misery and their happiness only exists because they are miserable. Once they (eventually) get what they want, the fantasy vanishes. No one strongly evokes hate or sympathy. All are enveloped in their depression and too narcissistic to see past their own desires. These characters are vessels of temperament, not personality.

Tom Felton is great as a pasty, incapable weakling – for a minute I truly didn’t recognize Draco Malfoy himself. He compliments his hysterical, yet fearsome, counterpart, Jessica Lange, well enough. For the majority of the film, Elizabeth Olsen looks frightened, miserable or fiendish. The actress has a knack for sorrowful-stares. Oscar Isaac, as Laurent, plays the typical tall, dark, and handsome role – but he more than anyone had zero depth. He initiates the steamy affair out of nowhere. We know she is lusty but he just pops up (no pun intended) and boom—

Charlie Stratton had a precise vision, and he achieves it. He creates a rich decaying atmosphere around talented actors. The homes are dank and claustrophobic, the streets are dusty, the wardrobes, along with the general coloring of the film, are all dull—very reflective of the mood. The director captures physical intensity wonderfully, but the characters are emotionally empty, save for a few shouts and drunken name-calling. 

The film was clearly planned and well executed, but it remained irritating for me because it trembled on the edge of melodrama almost too much and wound up falling flat in the end.

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