In Secret Movie Review
Filmmaker Charlie Stratton takes a rather obvious approach to Emile Zola's iconic 1867 novel Therese Raquin, ramping up the melodrama while drenching everything in shadowy doom and gloom. It's such a bleak film that it sometimes feels like a spoof, pushing every emotional story element to the breaking point. But the resilient premise still has something to say.
In deeply repressed 19th century French society, Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) is an orphan raised by her over-involved aunt (Jessica Lange), sharing a bed with her sickly cousin Camille (Tom Felton). When she comes of age, Therese is simply expected to marry Camille, after which all three move to Paris to open a shop. Soon Therese meets Camille's old pal Laurent (Oscar Isaac), who sparks her lust in ways the wheezy Camille never could. And as they begin a torrid affair, Therese and Laurent know that they can only be together after Camille is dead. So they hatch a nefarious plan, but life doesn't play out quite as they expect it to.
Writer-director Stratton makes everything so stylised that it can't help feeling stagey, with streets, sets and costumes that are relentlessly drab. The main colour scheme is dark greys and browns, and everything is swamped in murky shadows as the characters swap anguished glances. The actors do what they can with this. Olsen and Isaac manage to generate some sweaty chemistry, which transforms into something very different in the final act. Felton finds some humanity underneath Camille's obnoxious exterior. Lange merrily chomps the scenery as the glowering, over-reacting matriarch. And casting Matt Lucas, Mackenzie Crook and Shirley Henderson in key supporting roles can't help but add some unexpected comedy ("I have a touch of the vapours!").
Even so, Stratton can't help but preach the moralising message, stressing the point every chance he gets: be careful what you wish for. But Zola's story is much stronger when it's understated. In movies from Double Indemnity to Body Heat, actors and filmmakers have told variations on the theme with remarkable subtlety and texture. So even if Stratton pushes everything so far that it becomes faintly silly, the story itself remains darkly provocative.