Upon discovering that In Secret is based on the 1867 classic novel Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola, the whole of director Charlie Stratton’s work is given greater context. The story of Thérèse Raquin has been adapted numerous times into films over the past 80+ years, with some choosing to modernize the story (1953’s The Adultress), but by all accounts Stratton chooses to remain entirely faithful to the original novel. As a result, the film has a distinctly literary tone with all the trappings of an erotic thriller that is slightly past its due date.
Thérèse (Elizabeth Olsen) is just a young girl when she loses her mother and is left at her aunt’s doorstep by her father. Her aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), is none to pleased to see her at first, but she quickly warms up to her once she realizes she has a fit caretaker for her sickly son Camille (Tom Felton). Devoted to her cousin’s welfare, Thérèse has little life to call her own, and is married to Camille as the family moves to Paris for his work. Thérèse’s life in Paris is a dreary drudge of assisting her aunt in her seamstress shop, taking care of Camille, and sitting in the corner each Thursday when friends come over for domino night. Until she is introduced to Camille’s childhood friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac), and the two strike up a torrid love affair that soon devolves into a successful murder plot against Camille and a quick unraveling of the passion that once consumed them.
To say there is a moral to this story is an understatement, even by 1867 standards of morality. And perhaps that’s why the overall film is so underwhelming. Not only has this story been told hundreds of times, but even in today’s world of reprocessed Hollywood adaptations, it feels antiquated. There’s nothing classic to this particular story that makes it a standout among the countless others of its ilk. Which is a shame because the overall aesthetic of the film is actually quite creepy and keeps you mildly interested in what’s to come. There are also some great shots from Stratton that beg further attention, but their significance would ruin some plot points and sense there is so little surprise in this tired tale, I won’t divulge them here. What I will say is that Camille’s reach beyond the grave is handled rather well by Stratton, as both Thérèse and Laurent succumb to their own paranoia and villainy.
The performances are also well done enough to make you care that the overall film wasn’t more memorable. Elizabeth Olsen continues to keep me interested in what else she has in store, a journey that began with Martha Marcy May Marlene and continues to expand to other roles such as her upcoming interpretation as Scarlet Witch. Oscar Isaac is also good in a role that is similar to his work in Inside Lleywn Davis but nuanced enough to add to his repertoire.
Despite the tired tale, the pace of In Secret bolstered by focus and allowed me to at least enjoy the work of Elizabeth Olsen and Charlie Stratton. Both succeed in bringing the very literary aesthetic to the screen, but in doing so, the story sacrifices a lasting connection to the modern day zeitgeist.
In Secret opens today in Philly area theaters.