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October 26, 2014

DVDFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


With a screenplay based on Émile Zola’s classic novel Thérèse Raquin, in his feature film debut, director Charlie Stratton takes us on a tour of nineteenth century Paris and the dark desires of the human heart, and whilst In Secret is far from being the most original film released in recent times, it is handled with a deftness that one would not necessarily expect from a first feature.

In Secret’s weakest point is undoubtedly its plot. There is something rather Brontë-esque about the whole thing, though perhaps a shade darker than we might expect from the famous literary family. Given that the film follows tropes that have been a staple of gothic, Victorian era story-telling since the genre emerged, it is always fairly easy for the viewer to surmise where the next twist in the tale is heading. That is not to say that the plot is in any way weak, all points join up nicely, leading to a satisfying conclusion, with each event leading sensibly onto the next, but unfortunately a solid plot does not always make for the most interesting or original one.

However, the cast and director breathe a great deal of life and intrigue into what could otherwise be a very run-of-the-mill film. The entire cast perform strongly, delivering their roles with subtly believable emotion, however it is Elizabeth Olsen and Oscar Isaac who truly stand out. Both play out the dark, sordid and often tragic tale of secret lovers Thérèse and Laurent with such authentic intensity that their performances really are quite captivating. They match the moods and actions of their characters perfectly with the increasingly darkening story. Olsen in particular does a spectacular job of transforming Thérèse from quiet, sexually repressed country girl to plotting, sexually liberated woman of the city.

However, it is director Stratton who is the real star of In Secret. The film is littered with symbolism that, whilst meaningful and decipherable to the viewer, is never too up front. To cite an example, the imagery of water and drowning is one that is repeated time and again. This is a clear reflection of the secrets that the film’s lovers must keep below the surface, at first with regards to their affair, and later with regards to far darker matters. Indeed, as the film reaches its conclusion, it is the avoidance of a drowning that ultimately leads to all the long held secrets being brought to the surface.

In Secret also makes excellent use of light and dark. This is not only in the literal sense, but also in whether surroundings are pleasant and open, or dank, secluded and claustrophobic. In many of the earlier scenes, when Thérèse and Laurent’s love is new, passionate and relatively care-free, the rooms they are in together seem well lit and well maintained, however, as time goes on, their home becomes darker and a place of sorrow and madness. Indeed, as their relationship becomes seemingly more open to their friends around them, their personal existence becomes more introverted, be it their own internal thoughts, or their life in the home that they have come to inherit through their foul deeds.


In doing all of this Stratton creates a film which moves sublimely between genres. In Secret seemingly begins as a romance about the liberation of a sexually repressed young woman by a mysterious city gentleman. Indeed, there are moments towards the beginning of the film that are genuinely erotic. However, as time progresses, we drift further and further into the realms of horror. The setting becomes bleaker, a house that once seemed happy becomes increasingly haunted by the ghosts of the past. The actions become progressively more degenerate, spiralling down from infidelity, further and further into the depths of depravity. Laurent, the man who once appeared a mysterious liberator seems to become the devil himself, embodying lust, violence, deceit and greed. Towards the end of the film we have left the moments of eroticism far behind, and are instead confronted with regular scenes of genuine repulsion.

Overall In Secret is a very accomplished piece of cinema, especially for a first feature director. Whilst the plot itself is rather predictable, this becomes largely forgivable as it proves, more than anything, to be a vehicle that showcases the actors’ and director’s talent. Through Olsen and Isaac’s performances we are faced with very real representations of both the dizzying heights and deepest troughs of the human hearts, and the ways in which even the most seemingly innocent of us can drift into corruption. But it is Stratton who truly excels, using symbolism, light, setting and tone expertly to drift us slowly from an erotic romance to a sincerely foul horror.

In Secret is out now on DVD

Jon Heywood