The latest incarnation of "Thérèse Raquin," Emile Zola's 1867 novel of lust and murder, arrives not as a bodice ripper but a bodice unbuttoner. Aiming for the screw-tightening tension of noir, writer-director Charlie Stratton lands in a murky region of the gray scale with "In Secret," a film rich in atmosphere but emotionally as blunt as its title.
With varying degrees of success, Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton and Jessica Lange struggle against the shaky mix of melodrama, black comedy, ghost story and a soupçon of Grand Guignol. It's a combination that might have been inspired if the adulterous affair at the heart of the drama felt truly daring or dangerous. But "In Secret" manages to make illicit sex unexciting.
The film quickly traces the unhappy formative years of Thérèse (Olsen): raised by her controlling aunt (Lange) and forced into marriage with the ailing Camille (Felton, in a convincing departure from "Harry Potter" villain Draco Malfoy). Camille is obviously too feeble and clueless to satisfy Thérèse, whose hungers are made evident as she watches a shirtless farmer wield a scythe.
By the time painter Laurent (Isaac) enters Thérèse's life, the facts of her oppression are clear. But much as Stratton's adaptation (working from a play by Neal Bell) is devoid of suspense, his main character's despair and awakening are delineated rather than felt.
Olsen has a few powerful moments but mostly comes across as too modern while Lange subtly navigates a range of emotions before diving into borderline camp.
If the fatalistic story unfolds with a disappointing directness, it looks great. Stratton, production designer Uli Hanisch and cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister have steeped the action in the gorgeous, grime-filtered gloom of pre-electricity Paris. It's a fine (if sometimes overpowering) fit for a story that finally plays out like a weird, passionless death trip.
MPAA rating: R for sexual content and brief violent images.
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.
Playing: In general release.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times