Movie Review - ‘In Secret’


You might think the marketing campaign for a movie called “In Secret” would play things a little close to the vest.

Nope.

In a complete reversal of the trailers for last weekend’s “Winter’s Tale,” which were purposely vague so as to not let moviegoers realize how off-the-rails bonkers that love story was before it was too late, the clips for “In Secret” are among the spoileriest you’ll ever see — or not see if you want to be at all surprised.

Then again, someone probably thought mainstream viewers needed more of a push to get excited about a movie based on Emile Zola’s 1867 novel, “Therese Raquin.”

When her mother dies and her father doesn’t know what to do with her, Therese (played as an adult by Elizabeth Olsen) is left in the French countryside to be raised by her aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange).

Actually, “raised” probably isn’t the best word. Therese is treated partly as a nuisance — Raquin embroiders such niceties as “Don’t Make a Sound” and “Keep Quiet” — and partly as a servant, tasked with caring for her sickly cousin, Camille (Tom Felton, “Harry Potter’s” Draco Malfoy).

Therese spends a good decade or more pouring medicine down Camille’s throat and being woken in the middle of the night by his incessant coughing in the bed they innocently share.

That’s one of very few things innocent about Therese, one of those sexually repressed young ladies who were all the rage 150 years ago. Furtively watching a shirtless farmer wield a scythe sends her close to ecstasy, and she eye-molests pretty much anything with a Y chromosome — aside from that hacking, feverish mama’s boy Camille.

Raquin soon forces Therese to marry Camille, the three of them move to a dank shop in a Paris alleyway, and Therese’s miserable existence grows even more so as she’s excluded from even the relative excitement of Thursday evening games of dominoes.

But when Camille brings home his hunky childhood friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”), all bets are off.

“In Secret’s” characters are drawn in such extremes that, at least at the outset, it feels a bit like a live-action fairy tale. There’s the damsel in distress, the wicked witch, the strapping hero and that sweaty, awkward thing that should be living under a bridge.

The dead-eyed Therese is practically about to burst from desire, so it doesn’t take much for Laurent to ignite a fire in her crinolines. Before long, they’re sneaking off at every opportunity to be with each other in ways that are erotic without being dirty. And they’re a far cry from the “lovemaking” she’s used to with the nightshirt-clad Camille. Between the horrified look on her face and the way she holds her hands over her head, Therese looks like she’s being held at musketpoint whenever she’s with Camille.

Raquin and Camille had convinced the lifeless Therese she couldn’t exist without them. “There was nothing left of me but a bit of burnt wick and a wisp of smoke,” she tells Laurent. Now, though, she wants to be anywhere but with them.

If only there were a way Therese and Laurent could be together forever.

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

What writer-director Charlie Stratton has in store from there is a twisty, turny tale with just a hint of Alfred Hitchcock — or at least “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” “In Secret” is certainly not the dull costume drama you might expect.

It’s a little curious, though, that none of the French characters speak or even sound French. And each member of Raquin’s small circle of friends is so underdeveloped, they’d might as well not exist.

Just when you think Lange’s three seasons of histrionics on FX’s “American Horror Story” had robbed her of her subtlety, Raquin suffers a stroke. No longer able to shriek or wail, Lange has to struggle to emote and proves cable TV hasn’t ruined her forever.

Coming a month after he burst onto the scene in the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “In Secret” cements Isaac’s chameleonic status. He’s certainly an actor to keep an eye on.

And this is your last chance to “discover” Olsen, who’s carved out a nice career in smaller films, before May’s “Godzilla” and next summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” She’s convincing at every stage of Therese’s journey, from listless and longing to sexually satisfied to all the overwrought, over-the-top events that follow.

To find out about those, though, you’ll need to actually see the movie.

Or just watch the trailer.

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Contact Las Vegas Review-Journal movie reviewer Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com.