Almost from the moment she is handed over to her imperious aunt for caretaking, Therese Raquin (Elizabeth Olsen) is a prisoner.
That theme is further hammered home once an older Therese is forced to marry her sickly cousin, Cami Raquin (Tom Felton), and move with him and his mother from the countryside to Paris in the 1860s.
Cami has landed an office clerking job, and his mother, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), plans to open a small haberdashery. When the threesome arrive at the location that will serve as a storefront with upstairs living quarters, it's gloomy and depressing, with windows that look like the bars of a prison cell or cage.
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange, Oscar Isaac.
Rating: R for sexual content and brief violent images..
In the movie "In Secret," based on the scandalous Emile Zola novel "Therese Raquin," the young woman finds a dangerous, lusty escape from her dreary life in Cami's childhood friend, artist Laurent (Oscar Isaac from "Inside Llewyn Davis").
Their illicit affair unfolds upstairs of the shop, where Therese's aunt turned mother-in-law lurks, but the emboldened young woman insists "danger passes by those who look it in the eye." A plan for the two to be together takes them down a hellish, haunted path that could be their undoing. Literally.
"In Secret," directed by Charlie Stratton and based on the book along with a stage adaptation by Neal Bell for a Los Angeles theater company, gives the best role of all to Ms. Lange as a woman who dotes on her son at the expense of everyone and everything else. She, too, becomes trapped although in a different way than the clandestine lovers who hold her fate in their hands.
Mr. Stratton re-creates 19th-century Paris in Hungary and Serbia, with most exteriors shot in Budapest. The movie seems claustrophobic, appropriately so at times, but can feel stagey and low-budgeted rather than intimate, and the tension slackens too early in the picture.
Zola's book has inspired other films, TV projects, plays and operas, but the screenplay fails to emphasize, for a modern audience, the penalty for adultery or even the constraints faced by an orphan such as Therese. Her role as a wife is made clear when Cami (played by Harry Potter nemesis Draco Malfoy) announces a change and declares, "I'm the husband. I make the decisions. Therese, I'm not asking you, I'm telling you."
"In Secret" is a well-acted but not especially memorable tale of obsessive love turned criminal and tragic, told with a modern sensibility. However, by casting Ms. Lange, there are echoes of 1981's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" about a drifter and the seductive wife of a roadside cafe owner who plot to murder that woman's husband.
Opens today at AMC-Loews at the Waterfront and Manor in Squirrel Hill.
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: email@example.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.