In Secret | Director Charlie Stratton | Score: 4.7
I had to smother my amusement when a fellow film critic companion, after a long, hard day at TIFF, slogging though difficult, archly depressing films, decided to join me for this screening, thinking it might offer a brief flash of sunlight on an otherwise dreary day. I asked her if she had ever read any Émile Zola, the French novelist and practitioner of naturalism, whose oeuvre consists of some of the most pitiless and unabashedly miserable books on human record, and upon whose novel (Thérèse Raquin) this film was faithfully adapted. Needless to say, my friend’s day turned no brighter upon this viewing.
The story involves Thérèse (Elizabeth Olsen), a beautiful orphan having to live with her oppressive aunt, Mademe Raquin (Jessica Lange) and sickly cousin Camille (Tom Felton). The family moves to Paris, but not before Thérèse is forced to marry Camille, leading to an utterly loveless marriage, and the young bride desperate to find any way out of her predicament. Enter the dashing artist Laurent (Oscar Isaac minus Llewyn Davis’ beard), who sweeps her off her feet and begins a torrid affair. Before too long, the young lovers devise a plan to kill Camille in order to be together, a drowning that goes wretchedly wrong before succeeding and the subsequent drama leads to Mademe Raquin’s having a stroke that leaves her unable to speak or move about.
You can pretty much see where this is headed, with the culmination of grief, guilt, lust and the silent accusation of a badly damaged mother hanging over the couple like a cloud of thick radioactive dust.
Director Charlie Stratton does not shy away from Zola’s hauntingly gruesome conception of humanity: In his harshly callous world, no human being is absolved of the culmination of their sins and everyone suffers unduly before they are given the sweet release of death. Olsen and Isaac work well with one another, but it is the callow Felton, playing the frail, utterly repressed Camille who is the major standout. He is best known for playing Draco Malfoy, the most villainous of the evil students in the “Harry Potter” films, but here he shows a vulnerable side that makes his plight all the more heartbreaking.
Not for the frail of countenance (my friend stared into space miserably for some minutes after the credits rolled), Stratton’s film is dutiful in its recreation of the urban squalor and twisted souls of the residents of Paris at the time, but here, as with Zola’s novels themselves, one just wishes for any jot of mood other than abject misery.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.
Bypass theater ticket lines. Buy movie tickets in advance at Fandango.com.