Director: Charlie Stratton
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton and Jessica Lange
Release Date: May 16
With Elizabeth Olsen starring in the new Avengers film, Oscar Isaac coming fresh-faced from his Oscar nomination, and Tom Felton breaking away from his bit-role in Harry Potter with the Rise of the Planet of the Apes franchise, In Secret feels like something of a proving ground for it’s up-and-coming cast.
This feels very much like that in-between film, not destined for greatness, but a rock-solid example of good acting that each cast member can refer to. And to their credit, this is something they can all lay claim to, once the credits have rolled.
Based on the classic 1867 novel ‘Thèrèse Raquin’, In Secret follows the turmoils of Thèrèse, a sexually repressed woman who is trapped into a loveless marriage with her ailing cousin, Camille, by his overbearing mother. As she struggles with this new development, she is brought unwillingly to the city of Paris, where she develops a controversial relationship with Camille’s childhood friend, Laurent…
It has to be said that, while the plot of the film is interesting enough that you will never be bored, it does amble through it in a very relaxed manner. Tensions rarely rise to breaking point in this domestic thriller, and it is more contemplative than emotional. To that end, it would have benefited from some more focus on singular characters and what makes them tick in these quieter moments.
However, while this is a logistic fault in the film that took some time for this writer to convey into words, the feature as a whole is an energetic and carefree film that succeeds on the merits of its stellar cast and a very tangible atmosphere.
When we first arrive on the gritty streets of Paris, we are allowed a very brief glimpse of the busier sectors, of the hustle and bustle of the dirty Parisian metropolis. Moments later, we are ushered into an oppressive alleyway, the walls blackened with soot and sunlight deprivation. It recalls the setting of Knockturn Alley (from Harry Potter), grim to the point of excess, and reminiscent of a stage play.
This feels immediately restrictive, but it is nothing to how Thèrèse feels, suffocating in a monotonous daily schedule that offers no respite, sexually or otherwise.
More than once during the film, it is clear to see that this is a role that only offers what the actor brings to it. She has little to say, little to do, and yet, Olsen manages to wring not only a good, but a great performance out of her character. It recalls her work on Martha Marcy May Marlene, allowing her an opportunity to simply be on-screen, to show that she has studied the role, and is in her character’s state of mind throughout. Her eyes are never blank, as though recalling her next lines. They shine, with great sadness or pleasure, the eyes of a young woman living in the moment.
And this is never more apparent than in the first few intimate scenes that she shares with Isaac, a relationship that is quite bluntly sexual and far less emotional than the characters themselves care to believe. The actual emotions running through these people are not actually voiced until their third or forth meeting, which makes the chemistry between the two that much more palpable.
And chemistry truly is the word, something which dwindles spectacularly as the film progresses. Isaac manages to balance charm with schlubb, veering haphazardly in either direction while never losing sight of who he is. In one of the more emotionally charged scenes in the film, we see tension rise between the two, each passive aggressive comment sparking with electricity and venom.
It is when we delve into this portion of the film that it takes a novel turn into the Gothic, and, quite admirably, manages to steer clear of outright horror, even though the temptation to do so clearly niggles at the directors mind. He slips at one point, testing the waters of shlock, but wisely abstains from going any further. If it had been removed entirely, it may have benefited the film even more so. It is the consistent feeling of helplessness, and the uncanny imagery the film revels in, that raises the bar for this film. Not the monster under the bed.
On the topic of monsters, two standouts from the supporting cast deserve a mention. Tom Felton and Jessica Lange explore their characters, however minor, in just as much detail as Olsen and Isaac. What makes their portrayal of these characters so vivid is that they are not morally black or white. In fact, they are often more sympathetic than the two leads, which is certainly saying something.
Felton emanates a charismatic sickliness, that evokes pity but also revulsion. We want to like him, but from afar, and this evokes our sympathies even further. His performance brings Thèrèse’s plight into perspective, in that we are made constantly aware where she stands, morally, but question whether we could do anything differently in her position.
Jessica Lange, meanwhile, teases the audience into thinking she is pure background colour (perfectly respectable background colour too) before metaphorically roundhouse kicking us in the cranium with her acting talents. She is overshadowed by the already stellar cast, but she pulls her own and has some choice scenes that stand out in memory. None of which can be referenced here however, for fear of spoiling the film.
It is dark, dirty and constrictive, and to some, this may seem like a bad thing.
However, based on the performances alone, In Secret is a worthy way to spend your evening. It is a showcase more than anything else, but an enrapturing and atmospheric showcase that is easy to lose yourself in.
A must-see for fans of the Gothic.