Synopsis: Set in the lower echelons of 1860s Paris, a sexually repressed young woman is trapped into a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin by her domineering aunt. After meeting her husband’s alluring friend she embarks on an illicit affair that leads to tragic consequences.
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange, Oscar Isaac, Shirley Henderson, John Kavanagh, Mackenzie Crook, Matt Lucas
Director: Charlie Stratton
Running Length: 101 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: In Secret is one of the small films that would be quite easy to miss at a better time of year. These being the waning winter months before the Oscars are announced and the push for the summer blockbusters begins, however, the field is a bit more open with much less to recommend than movie studios would wish. That’s why In Secret is such an interesting find, a dark drama chock full of shadows and struggles which grew on me more than I thought it ever would.
Based on Émile Zola’s 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin that no doubt inspired countless modern films about unhappy wives that get rid of their husbands with the help of a well-coiffed lover, In Secret boasts superior production values and performances from the top down. Writer/director Charlie Stratton labored for years to get his vision on screen and the wait was worth it.
Having starred in the similarly themed steamy erotic thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice, Jessica Lange (Cape Fear) graduates from femme fatale to grand dame as a smother mother who takes in her young niece and raises her alongside (and in servitude to) her only son, the sickly Camille (Tom Felton, The Apparition). From early on we can see that Therese (a stilted but better than usual Elizabeth Olsen, Oldboy) longs for something better and is pretty sure she deserves it too. She’s not your typical schemer but seizes opportunities when they are presented to her…an opportunist.
Moving with her aunt and cousin turned husband from the slow pace countryside to a dingy street in Paris where Lange opens a shop, Therese sees her chance for freedom in Camille’s friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis). A temperature rising seduction begins between the two, leading to a day on the lake for Therese, Camille, and Laurent that turns tragic.
What happens next could have been the same fodder as any number of tangled thrillers, but Stratton wisely keeps the event off screen, leaving the audience to be as in the dark to what actually happened as certain central characters are. That gives him room to explore the aftermath it has on everyone and how the lust that turned to love quickly morphs into something darker and more frightening.
What helps In Secret along are not only the strong performances of Lange (especially after she’s rendered mute) and Isaac but in Stratton’s fleshing out of a small group of Parisians that Lange and family called friends. An oddball mix of rude mechanical-like figures, they inject a dose of wry humor (not comedy) into the latter half of the movie that saves it from trolling the bottom of the Seine.
Playing in limited release, more people will (unfortunately) probably see Pompeii on its first day than will see this in its entire run…but it’s worth considering over any number of films that are landing in the Top 10 the next few weekends.