In Secret is a kind of Frenchified The Postman Always Rings Twice, with a rowboating scenario straight out of A Place in the Sun. Only Émile Zola thought of it all first: This tale of obsessive love-turned-curdled love, of murder, money, and meddlesome acquaintances, is based on his 1867 novel, Thérèse Raquin, adapted to film, and opera, and plays before.
This current, overwrought version hails from first-time feature director Charlie Stratton, who plops us down in a gloomy mid-18th-century Paris, where his American and British cast speak in the stiff, stilted English typically deployed when wearing bonnets and hoop skirts, topcoats, and berets, with characters repairing to the banks of the Seine for a glass of wine, or a kerplunk on the head with an oar.
Elizabeth Olsen, so mesmerizing in 2011's Martha Marcy May Marlene, is considerably less so as Thérèse - a girl raised by her oppressive aunt (Jessica Lange) and forced to share a bed with her consumptive and twitty first cousin, Camille (Tom Felton) - from childhood onward to the sexually hungry young adulthood she finds herself in now.
Madame Raquin thinks it's a good idea for Thérèse and Camille to marry, and soon the threesome are setting up shop (literally, a haberdashery) on a drab Parisian rue. Enter the artist Laurent (Oscar Isaac of Inside Llewyn Davis), a carnal boho who takes one look at the unhappy Thérèse and . . . well, she takes one look at him and off they go, trysting adulterously whenever and wherever.
How inconvenient that Camille is there, ruining everything!
Despite its able cast (Shirley Henderson is a family friend whose suspicions are aroused) and handsome period costumes, In Secret is, in fact, quite awful. The anguish on Olsen and Isaac's faces could well be interpreted as a reaction to the mess they find themselves in professionally - not necessarily a reflection of the plight of the ill-fated lovers they play.
In Secret *1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Charlie Stratton. With Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton, and Jessica Lange. Distributed by Roadside Attractions.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 mins.
Parent's guide: R (sex, violence, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters