Monday, February 24, 2014

The Laughably Bad Victorian-Era Romantic Thriller IN SECRET

Now playing at an art house near you, in my case the Colony Theater in Raleigh:

IN SECRET (Dir. Charlie Stratton, 2013)

Charlie Stratton’s adaptation of Neal Bell’s stage play, which was based on the 1867 novel “Therese Racquin” by Émile Zola, is such an overwrought exercise with simplistic soap opera dialogue that it sometimes plays like a parody of an Victorian era romantic thriller. A very bad parody, that is.

Set in France in the 1860s, the story sets up Elizabeth Olsen as a woman trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage to a sickly Tom Felton (best known as Draco Malfoy in the HARRY POTTER films), that was arranged by Jessica Lange as Malfoy’s, I mean Felton’s cold evil-eyed mother. Lange is also Olsen’s aunt so there’s that.

I’ve often thought that Lange sometimes brings a mental instability to characters that don’t necessarily call for it, but this one sure does. The power she wields over Olsen is unexplained as I kept wondering why doesn’t the girl just run away when told she has to marry Felton? Olsen in an aside says she didn’t think she had the strength to make it on her own, but I’m not buying it.

Shortly after the couple and matriarch Lange move to Paris to open up a some sort of fabric shop (that never has any customers), while Felton works in an office, Oscar Isaac (currently starring as the title character in the Coen brothers’ INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS) pops up as a childhood friend of Felton’s. Isaac is a suave charming aspiring artist who Olsen falls madly in love with in a series of overly artsy soft focus sex scenes (one even has the light through a window glaring on the lens). Imagine gruff movie trailer announcer’s voice: “The love they had could only be shared…In Secret.”

Because of the times or whatever, Olsen and Isaac can’t just run away together so the word “accident” comes up regarding Felton, which is a shame because he’s the only one here with the appropriate accent. The three go on a boat trip that ends in murder as Isaac drowns Felton. We don’t see this happen except for fleeting flashbacks later in the film, but we get what happened when Olsen and Isaac come back wet and screaming, claiming that Felton was standing, dancing I think, and tipped the boat over. 

Not sure why they felt it was necessary to show us a ghastly shot of Felton's corpse - it creeped me out more than it did Isaac when he went to the morgue to identify the body.

The lovers have to wait to get together or else they’ll be suspected for murder, and guess what, the heat has died off for some reason. The plotting gets more and more ludicrous in the last third, with Lange developing some disease that causes her to lose her voice so she’s unable to point out to anyone that Olsen and Isaac murdered her son. Lange even goes to the length to spell it out in messy ink on the store’s floor.

The swelling strings of Gabriel Yared's (THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, COLD MOUNTAIN) score try to intensify the events but come off as laughably bad as everything else.

When I’m watching a film that I know is an adaptation of a book I haven’t read, I sometimes find myself thinking ‘oh, this is probably a lot more compelling or plausible on the page.’ I thought that a lot during this film, but folks who’ve read the original novel may get a lot more out of it than me - I'm fairly certain Zola's text wasn't the
trashy romance novel that this film makes it look like.

Stratton's full length feature directorial debut, IN SECRET is a dreadful melodrama, that wastes the energy of talented actors (for some reason they cast Mackenzie Crook, best known as Gareth from The Office UK, to just stand around and make obvious observations), while its contrivances waste the time of the audience. For sure, one of the first of the worst movies of the year.

More later...

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