by Tony Dayoub
Think The Postman Always Rings Twice in period costume and you'll instantly get what In Secret is all about. It is based on Émile Zola's novel, Thérèse Raquin, a kind of proto-noir. Elizabeth Olsen stars as Thérèse, an illegitimate cousin to the sickly Camille Raquin (Harry Potter's Tom Felton), who earns her keep as his sort of nurse. Camille's overprotective mother, Madame Raquin (played by the 1981 Postman's femme fatale, Jessica Lange) thinks she is doing all a favor by proposing a marriage between the two cousins. But Camille comes up short in the sexual heat department. Enter Laurent (Oscar Isaac), Camille's horny, hunky, childhood pal. It's not hard to figure where this is going from there.
Once the love triangle proves fatal for Camille, director Charlie Stratton is able to manipulate the tension adequately. Unfortunately, getting there is a drag. Olsen telegraphs Thérèse's nascent sexuality and her desire to stop at absolutely nothing to explore it in a clumsy manner. Every time Laurent makes a sexually provocative comment Thérèse's eyes become saucers and she sighs loud enough for her neighbors to hear. Despite modern sensibilities being completely on her side in respect to her indentured servitude, one would never mistake her as a potential feminist heroine. There is never an opportunity for us to sympathize with Thérèse's quite understandable dilemma because she just seems too malevolent to start with. This despite Camille's delineation as a repugnant wisp of a boy. As the womanizing, art school bad boy, Isaac also shows none of the subtlety he has previously in movies as recent as Inside Llewyn Davis. Only Lange, who has gotten a lot of practice in TV's batshit American Horror Story, masters the heightened emotions of this melodrama, which causes me to suspect that former actor Stratton is not particularly adept at directing his own colleagues, confirmed talents all.
Without the contemporary feminist angle, In Secret comes across as boilerplate. Neither Stratton nor his actors really add anything surprising to a well-worn story that even the most naive audience will find predictable. It all leaves you wondering what the point was in revisiting a tale that's been more than played out in countless variations. In Secret never answers this question, and neither can I.