Predictable Themes of Ennui, Infidelity Plague Tedious 'In Secret'

Kaitlyn Fajilan


In Secret

Rating: 2.5 stars


When Thérèse Raquin was first published in France in 1867, more than a few tongues were set a-wagging at writer Emile Zola's frank portrayal of unbidden lust and murder. As with many works deemed pornographic by the reading public, the air of scandal surrounding Thérèse helped bolster its appeal and propel Zola into literary fame, particularly after critic Louise Ulbach railed bitterly against the novel, calling it "putrid."

Though "putrid" isn't quite the word to describe this Charlie Stratton adaptation of Zola's classic (though it does boast one or two bloated corpses), there is sense of overripeness to the film, a tinge of déjà vu in that we've seen this story played out countless times before and already know how it is going to end.

Elizabeth Olsen (of Martha Marcy May Marlene fame) plays the parentless Thérèse, whose overbearing aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), forces her into an engagement with her only child, the sickly and decidedly humdrum Camille (portrayed by Tom Felton). Though Camille's blandness and utter lack of sensuality fail to satisfy Therese's craving for the erotic and thrilling, she reluctantly acquiesces and the family promptly moves to Paris, where Camille has taken up a job as a clerk. There, she meets Camille's childhood friend and fellow clerk (as well as part-time artist), Laurent, whose bohemian brio and raw, sexual magnetism draw her into clandestine affair that eventually ends in Camille's murder. In the wake of his death, Thérèse and Laurent struggle with the inner demons that disintegrate their passion and threaten to reveal their damning secret.

Throughout the film, Stratton employs elements of the macabre to reflect the lovers' moral depravity, as well as to foreshadow their impending doom. A gothic tone is maintained throughout by stifling light in many of the indoor, as well as outdoor scenes, which also help to heighten our sense of Thérèse's claustrophobia. Several high angle shots place the viewer in a position of looking downward, as if we are peering into a kind of underworld populated by creatures of covert deeds and dark motivations.



Actingwise, In Secret is decent on all accounts--despite a few unintentionally awkward/pained facial expressions, Olsen proves fairly capable of channeling the sexually repressed wallflower, and her English accent, for the most part, is acceptable. Lange's accent, on the other hand, often slips into a quasi-Transatlantic with a trace of Southern Belle, but her adeptness at slipping into states of alternating gentility, smarm, and hysteria all but makes up for it. She is especially believable as a paralyzed victim of stroke throughout the last third of the film. Perhaps most impressive is Isaacs, who expertly combines an impeccable English cant with all the scintillation, storm, and debauchery expected of a 19th century painter.

The problem with In Secret is that it ultimately comes off a tad too cut and dry. Over the years, we've been so inundated with cautionary tales of married women who escape ennui by resorting to infidelity (Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, The Awakening, and Lady Chatterley's Lover, we’re looking at you)that this one immediately comes off as trite and overdone. We knew things would end badly from the get-go. Perhaps Stratton would have done best by revamping the source material’s setting, characterization, etc., if only to spare us the tedium of predictability.


Author Bio:

Kailtlyn Fajilan is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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