Woman in an unfulfilling relationship conspires with her dangerous gentleman lover to kill her husband, only to become overrun with grief and eventually lose her mind.
Heard that one before?
It's a story that's seemingly been told a thousand times since Émile Zola wrote Thérése Raquin in 1867 (James M. Cain's classic pulp novel The Postman Always Rings Twice echoes the book's plot most famously).
The impact of the sordid cautionary tale on 19th century audiences was likely shocking -- what with all the sex, murder and overall moral impropriety oozing off the pages -- which is why this story type has lived on in various forms throughout the ensuing years.
But with this timeless plot having been ingrained so much in our minds, a straightforward retelling of the original story is bound to come up lame. In Secret, at least in the beginning, has the seeds of an erotic thriller, even though it's a little ridiculous to see dissatisfied protagonist Thérése (Elizabeth Olsen) humping the weeds while fantasizing over a shirtless farmer next door.
Her fling with bohemian artist Laurent (Oscar Isaac) is appropriately sexy when the two are still interested in tearing into each other like animals, behind the back (and on the bed) of Thérése's sickly cousin Camille (Tom Felton), whom she was forced to marry. Felton's very watchable as the somehow-sympathetic Camille, as he oscillates between being insufferably spoiled and lamentably pathetic. Olsen has a striking, Rooney Mara-like screen presence, but Isaac doesn't capture half the brashness he exuded wonderfully in Inside Llewyn Davis.
The consequences of Thérése and Laurent's behavior slow down the movie in the second half, eradicating whatever buzz it had going for it up to that point. An overacting Jessica Lange (who plays Camille's doting mother) doesn't help. But not much else would have -- In Secret needs more of that patented 21st-century sleaze.
Rated R for sexual content and brief violent images.
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