Film Review: In Secret

Effectively economical adaptation of Zola's <i>Th&#233;r&#232;se Raquin</i> results in a handsomely produced, highly satisfying psychological thriller.

Emile Zola's dark study of murderous adultery, Thérèse Raquin, has been filmed a number of times over the years, most notably by Marcel Carne in 1953, with the great Simone Signoret in the title role. Now comes Charlie Stratton, helming his own adaptation and casting Elizabeth Olsen as Thérèse, the poor girl who is forced into a marriage with her sickly cousin Camille Raquin (Tom Felton) by his domineering mother (Jessica Lange). The couple go to live in Paris and run a ladies' boutique, where Camille's dashing friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac) and Thérèse become entwined in a love affair so claustrophobically passionate that they plot to do away with her husband.

Stratton rather strips the novel to its essence, which turns out here to be very film noir-ish and, as such, makes for some highly gripping fare. He captures the stifling bourgeois atmosphere and close physical quarters which would drive quite mad a girl like Thérèse, whom he has established early on as a deeply passionate soul, masturbating as she spies on a sweaty country stud. The period décor and details are as good as anything in the contemporaneous The Invisible Woman—high praise, indeed—with the settings and costumes looking authentically lived in as well as aesthetically pleasing. The lighting in Thérèse's shop is so dark you wonder how any of her lady clients can actually see the fancy dry goods they are purchasing, but this is as it should be, historically speaking. Stratton also apprehends moments of beauty, especially in regard to Olsen with her singular, slightly amphibian prettiness, and effectively loads on the tension as her illicit relationship intensifies.

As stated, Olsen is a fine camera subject and strikingly conveys the seething inner frustration, and also rather cryptic nature, of Thérèse, endowing her with an innate and fascinating mystery. Although his death scene effectively evokes the famous similar incident in Dreiser's An American Tragedy (and all of its movie iterations), Felton isn't able to do much more with Camille than wanly cough and then make ghost-like dream appearances from the afterlife, but I appreciated Isaac's underplaying as Laurent. He doesn't overdo the character's seductive allure, nor does he go in for obvious, mustache-twirling villainy. The veil really drops but once, and that single, suddenly revealing look of steely, murderous determination in his eyes is enough to telegraph Laurent's sociopathic complexity.

It is left to Lange to fully deliver the human substance, and I am happy to report that, after nearly four decades of screen acting, this superlatively intuitive histrionic powerhouse is more potent than ever. She invests Madame Raquin with a depth which goes beyond Zola to his novelistic superior, Balzac, taking her from starchy, middle-class primness to a near-psychotic mournfulness over her son and, finally, a post-stroke catatonic, yet still ferociously alert-in-the-eyes, terror-filled watchfulness of the desperately guilty and dangerous couple. Her always inner-directed acting approach is the exact opposite of that of Meryl Streep, who builds her characters, with all their accents and mannerisms, from the outside in. That Lange should be so particularly good here should come as no surprise: This is lethally erotic terrain with which she is highly familiar, with its parallels to James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, where, for the first time, her startlingly fierce acting chops were fully released on the screen. Adding additional, gratifying vividness are two proven, genius character actors, Matt Lucas and Shirley Henderson, as an amusingly stuffy couple who are her closest, card-playing friends.