If you were an illegitimate kid abandoned by your father, forced to marry your wheezy and greasy (wheezy and greezy!) cousin and had your every move stalked by your crazy auntie, you might be as desperate as poor Therese, too.
Who’s in it: Elizabeth Olsen (Therese Raquin), Oscar Isaac (Laurent LeClaire), Tom Felton (Camille Raquin), Jessica Lange (Madame Raquin)
What it’s about: Secret lovers Therese and Laurent think that killing Therese’s cousin-husband Camille will allow them to live happily ever after.
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In 1867, you’d be hard-pressed to find a novel more risqué than Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. It inspired several film and made-for-TV adaptations around the world, with the latest being In Secret, touting an excellent cast and an eerie, mostly depressing 1860s setting. The story opens in the French countryside, where young Therese is raised alongside her sickly (and when I say sickly, I mean sickly) cousin Camille, with her domineering aunt serving to make her life miserable. Things get worse once Therese and Camille are grown and Camille wants to pursue a job in Paris (how can this guy work—he can barely breathe?!?). That’s when Madame Raquin announces that the cousins shall be married right before all three of them head off to the city together.
Therese has no choice but to go along with the union, but at least now she has a glimmer of hope that her life will become a little more exciting in the City of Light. After seeing how Therese used to sneak off and make the most of her precious few, um, “me time” moments in previous years, we know that she’s more than ready for a hunka hunka burnin’ love. But her dreams are dashed once her aunt confines her to the family’s dreary back-alley shop . . . until Camille brings home his long-lost friend Laurent one evening. Laurent is basically Oscar Isaac’s same character from Inside Llewyn Davis, except his obsession here is Therese rather than music, and he’s able to hide his douchiness slightly better. (There’s even a cat!) Anyway, Therese and Laurent begin the definition of “torrid affair” until they realize that pathetic little Camille is the only thing standing in the way of complete happiness. So Camille’s gotta go.
It would’ve been easier to swallow the evil scheming to bump off Camille if he was something more than just plain gross. Yes, his forehead is ridiculously high and his hair is slimy and he’s constantly gasping for air and he’s puny and a momma’s boy and a loser. Whereas Laurent is mysterious and cool and handsome and confident and knows his way around the boudoir and under a petticoat. And Therese is done with her neurotic aunt and her prison-sentence of a life. Those rare times when Camille attempts to do his husbandly duty don’t help. But was there really no other alternative for Therese and Laurent, who both seem reasonably intelligent, than to think they needed to KILL Camille?
After they move forward with their not-well-thought-out plan, it seems that some sort of inheritance might have been a motive for Laurent in addition to having Therese all to himself. Or maybe not. But Therese becomes despondent and regretful after the deed is done, especially once the grief literally paralyzes her mean old auntie. The full horror of what they’ve done haunts Therese and Laurent in different ways, though he’s better able to put it behind him. The question then becomes whether or not they still want to be together, which was the whole point of their actions in the first place.
In Secret marks the directorial debut of Charlie Stratton, who also wrote the screenplay. While he was able to successfully build tension around the Therese-Camille-Madame Raquin relationship as well as capture the sparks between Therese and Laurent up until they take Camille out for deadly boat ride, the dissolution of the love affair and downward spiral of all of the characters afterward felt rushed and hard to believe. It was also tough to know whether the audience was meant to giggle at or feel sorry for Madame Raquin after her stroke, as Jessica Lange played the role in an over-the-top fashion from the beginning. Unfortunately, it was that turn into unintentionally laughable territory that prevented Stratton from being able to sustain the film’s edgy tone and overall intrigue. In Secret‘s final moments are the perfect example of a scene that should have been built to a horrifying climax, but instead was ruined by a cops-and-robbers-esque break from the tension.
What makes the film worth seeing are the performances, even when they’re somewhat flawed like Lange’s. But it doesn’t come close to matching the scandalous reputation of its source material.
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