"Please save me." In a postcoital moment with the only man she's ever loved, Thérèse (Elizabeth Olsen) pleads with Laurent (Oscar Isaac of Inside Llewyn Davis) to take her away from her life of wedded misery. He has an idea of what to do, but the how, when, and where will take some planning.
Based on the Émile Zola novel Thérèse Raquin, In Secret takes place in the mid-19th century, a time of great awakening in the genre of romantic drama, and of very restrictive expectations for women. They were intended to marry young, and in many circles, still had very little choice in the matter. Thérèse wound up in her mess when she was a child, pawned off on her aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange). Years later, when her sickly son is ready to move to Paris for work, Madame Raquin assigns her ward to marry her son. Ah, traditional marriage.
Camille (Tom Felton from Harry Potter) is not much of a husband or a lover or even a friend. "Because I'm the husband," he screams at Thérèse during one argument, reasonable enough for the time, perhaps, but also indicative of the level of his engagement in the relationship. And as Thérèse comes of age and realizes that there's more to being a wife than forlornly combing her hair at her vanity, her situation seems hopeless. A chance encounter brings old family friend Laurent into the picture and before long, corsets are flying off in all directions.
It's easy to forget that Elizabeth Olsen is still so young. She turned 25 this month, but because she has a more mature look than her famous older twin sisters and has done a lot of serious work in just a few years, it's natural to assume she has a little more life to draw from. While not as emotionally brutal as in her breakout role in Martha Marcy May Marlene, Olsen is still highly effective in this film. Thérèse is pushed in all directions and Olsen is on the mark throughout.
On another note, does anyone know why Jessica Lange plays so many crazy old women these days? It started years ago—earlier than it probably should have—in the disastrously silly Hush with Gwyneth Paltrow. And now it's fairly common to see her show up more than a little off her rocker. Unfortunately, Lange goes from crazy and possessive to grief-stricken invalid, giving a second-half performance that rivals Anthony Hopkins' post-stroke facepalm in Legends of the Fall. While it's likely true that portraying a stroke victim requires different gears for an actor, a little goes a long way and it's far too overemphasized in Lange's final scenes.
In Secret may be plagued by a dull, nondescript title but there are a few great things going on here. Traditionally, forbidden love stories don't get as dark as this one, but the turn is played for great effect by director Charlie Stratton. The entire mood of the piece changes and the central characters all seem abandoned by each other. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the film's few communal scenes, in which the extended family entertains friends for games and conversation. Each of the acquaintances recognizes something is wrong, but can't quite express what it is. It's a unique perspective from which to see a number of other characters collapse or descend into madness all at once.
More than anything, though, In Secret indicates that Oscar Isaac can do a great many things in a movie besides play a folk singer beautifully, and it confirms that Elizabeth Olsen will be around for the long haul.