In life, people all have shades of grey. We have good moments and bad. At times, a person can be our best friend, and at other times, he can seem our worst enemy. A family member can be our greatest ally, and then suddenly our fiercest obstacle. But for the purposes of cinema, films often eliminate these complexities. They present us with heroes who are immaculate in virtually every way and villains who have no redeeming qualities whatsoever — and they expect us to cheer and boo accordingly. But that certainly isn't the case in Charlie Stratton's first feature film, In Secret . In this dark and captivating drama based on the novel Thérèse by Émile Zola, the lines are brilliantly blurred. There's no hero to worship or villain to wish dead — just people with good moments and frighteningly bad moments trying to get through life.
When Thérèse Raquin (Elizabeth Olsen) is left with her Aunt (Jessica Lange) after her mother's death, her life doesn't seem to be off to the best start. After years caring for her ailing cousin Camille (Tom Felton), her aunt announces that the two of them will be wed and they'll all move to the city. Understandably, this isn't the life the imaginative Thérèse had dreamt for her future. But dutifully, she does as she's told — and quickly sinks deeper and deeper into the hands of this family she never truly wanted to be part of.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the strong, charismatic, and handsome Laurent (Oscar Isaac) presents himself and she finds hope and love for the first time in her young life. But with a needy husband and overbearing aunt, the two realize they can never truly be together — unless they take matters into their own hands. And so begins a dark and terrifying psychological study of what happens when people are desperate to pursue their wants, regardless of the damage those desires may cause.
Although the average summary of the film might have you going into the cinema expecting a tortured romantic drama, Stratton isn't afraid to take sharp turns without a moment's notice. So be prepared for plenty of darkness and suspense. Your notions of bad guys and good guys quickly disappear as you find yourself cheering for one character one moment and feeling terrified of her at the next. Olsen, Lange, Felton, and Isaac carry off these depictions of refreshingly multi-dimensional characters almost effortlessly and with captivating honesty. Stratton's screenplay and direction brilliantly capture the complexities of human wants and needs — and the devastating effects of our desperate attempts to achieve them.
Everyone just wants to be happy — but at what cost?