Movie Reviews

‘In Secret’: Strong cast in a not-so erotic thriller

By David LeeMovies - 05 April 2014 12:00 AM

‘In Secret’: Strong cast in a not-so erotic thriller

Our Rating

3/5 Stars

‘In Secret is an erotic thriller based on the famous novel Thérèse Raquin by the French writer Emile Zola.

Set in the lower echelons of 1860s Paris, Thérèse Raquin (played by Elizabeth Olsen) is a sexually repressed beautiful young woman trapped into a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin, Camille (Tom Felton from ‘Harry Potter’), and forced into it by her domineering aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange).

Thérèse spends her days confined behind the counter of a small shop and her evenings watching Madame play dominoes with an eclectic group of friends who always gather in the house.

After she meets her husband's alluring friend, Laurent LeClaire (Oscar Issac), she embarks on an illicit affair that eventually led to murder and tragic consequences.

For many literary fans that have read the novel, the plot of the film is largely familiar and stays almost faithful to the stage play and the original novel it is based on.

With such a strong ensemble cast, expectations were high for the movie adaptation especially in the acting department. Elizabeth Olsen, who is on a roll starring in a string of well-received indie films in recent years (‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’, ‘Liberal Arts’, ‘Kill Your Darlings’), plays the titular role of Thérèse, the original title of the film. 

Olsen manages to convey the complex emotions of a frustrated and repressed wife, stuck in a loveless and mostly sexless forced marriage with no passion to speak of, bounded only by duty and fear. 

Oscar Issac, fresh off a star making titular role with ‘Inside Llewyn Dewis’, effortlessly plays the charming antagonist this time, who within a short time of paying house visit to paint the husband Camille, succeeded in seducing the young trophy wife.

A marked change from the original novel is the character of Camile, who in the book is selfish and egocentric, but given a more sympathetic angle by Tom Felton’s portrayal. Unseating the other actors and chewing up most of the scenes she’s in is veteran actress Jessica Lange, who plays the over protective and domineering mother patriarch of the household.

Even when Lange’s character has suffered a stroke and can barely move any of her limbs in the last act of the film, her eyes and facial expression fully conveys the range of emotions, hatred and turmoil her character is in.

Slow pacing and dull sex scenes

Even with the solid casting, and beautiful period design, costumes and cinematography which uses lots of natural lighting, the film never seem quite moving as one would have expected, especially when it builds up to the climatic ending.

Its slow ponderous pacing, and the dull love making scenes between the two adulterers, usually with clothes on, and hardly baring any skin or breaking sweat, contributed to making this a boring snooze fest. 

In the original novel, the adulterers have such animalistic attraction and need for each other that one expects the sex scenes to be far raunchier, than what has transpired on screen. You can hardly also feel the thrills and dangers of the lovers being discovered, as the scene cuts away without staying long enough or showing the proximity of the mother and son being close enough to catch them.

As guilt sets in on the adulterers after they have committed murder, the film seem to have gone schizophrenic and change gears to go into horror/ thriller territory, with a few sudden nightmare scenes injected to show the internal torment that the two guilt ridden lovers are going through.

These nightmare scenes are lifted straight from the novel with little originality, and ends abruptly with no payoff, thus leaving little empathy or insight into the characters suffering and torment in those moments.

Failing to be neither erotic nor thrilling, or incredibly moving, and being bogged down by an especially slow pacing, this screen adaptation is far from realizing its potential to do justice to the novel.

However, it is still worth catching the ensemble actors’ performances, especially that of the scene stealing Jessica Lange.

‘In Secret’ is now showing exclusively at Cathay cinemas


Movie Photos

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In Secret