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Charlie Stratton in his feature directorial debut presents a shadowy story of desire and psychological horror set in 1860s Paris. In Secret is an adaptation of the novel Thérѐse Raquin by Emile Zola. The story has influenced multiple works through the years, but at the time it was quite shocking. The result is an erotic noir reminiscent of The Postman Always Rings Twice mixed with corsets and candles.

Navigating psychological obsession — both of lust and guilt — is a tall order, but Elizabeth Olsen is up to the challenge. Having a brilliant debut with 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, Olsen is one of Hollywood’s most promising young actresses. Here she plays Thérѐse, a young woman who finds herself trapped in various cages.

She grows up in the care of her aunt, Madame Raquin, played by a sharp Jessica Lange. Secluded in the country, her primary companion is Madame’s son, Camille (Tom Felton from the Harry Potter franchise). Camille is very fragile, suffering multiple health issues and being incessantly coddled by his mother. Madame is generally kind to Thérѐse, but also overbearing, entitled and completely devoted to her precious son.

It comes as a surprise when Madame announces that Thérѐse is to marry her cousin. Timid and dependent on the family, Thérѐse agrees to the union, although she is obviously disappointed at the idea. This is a confined marriage to both mother and son and Thérѐse knows it. Felton impresses portraying Camille with a comical, foppish tone. Camille remains childish, weak, needy, an unsuccessful lover, and never leaves mommy’s side for too long — basically your worst nightmare.

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The couple wed and the trio moves to Paris. Bored and increasingly restless, Thérѐse at least finds some social interaction via the fabric shop she runs with Madame as well as with Madame’s quirky domino group (a delightful group of British character actors). Things change when Camille’s friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac) enters her life, and Thérѐse’s repressed passions start simmering to the surface. He is a complete foil to Camille – exciting, handsome, confident, seductive and slightly mysterious. It’s not long before the two embark in a torrid affair.

The film indulges in the lovemaking, and it almost becomes tiresome. Olsen and Isaac have chemistry and are believable in their attraction to one another, but the love scenes become so repetitive (one even comical) that the eroticism dissipates. The couple rendezvous what seems to be every afternoon while Camille is at work, trying to hide from the prying Madame Raquin.

Poor Camille has no clue about the affair or how to make Thérѐse happy as she continually becomes distant. With the devastating announcement that the family trio will be moving back to the country, Laurent and Thérѐse entertain dangerous thoughts of how to remove Camille from the picture.

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The film is mostly Olsen’s as it chronicles a gamut of emotional states: timidity, lasciviousness, anguish, frustration, guilt, assertiveness, obsession and madness. A quiet storm, she proves she can carry a film. Like an early Kate Winslet, Olsen is able to flesh out a period role while sidestepping the pearl-clutching melodrama.

On the heels of his own breakthrough role with Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac is effective as the brooding and sensual lover. However, this film may be a bit of a disappointment for fans as the character of Laurent lacks the scope of Llewyn. Jessica Lange gives a forceful performance. Showing off her acting chops, in a few scenes she has nothing to utilize except her eyes and plays it for all its worth.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is that there is no consistent villain. Despite Madame’s harshness, Camille’s immaturity, and the lustful sins of the lovers, there is a level of sympathy for them all. Ultimately though, it is a cautionary tale of the pain and destruction catalyzed by selfish decisions.

Visually, the lighting and palette used sets a somber tone. This candlelit world is at the same time romantic and menacing. However, with this much sex and violence, one would expect the film to make a more visceral impact than it does. The threat of the lovers’ secrets being revealed will provide a few heart-stopping moments, but the suspense stutters instead of building to a climax. Rather, the story crawls to a close, and the excitement undercut by redundant scenes and an overlong third act. Recommended if you enjoy moody or Gothic costume dramas; but be warned, this one includes horror movie elements and delves into sinister places.

If you like: Film noirs, Wuthering Heights, Match Point