Within the pages of an 1867 Emile Zola novel lie the seeds of film noir.
The hothouse cravings and bloody deeds contained in “Therese Raquin” travel in a straight line to James M. Cain’s “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” books that became a poisoned wellspring for the tawdry postwar American cinema known as noir.
Zola gives you the skeleton of the form, fleshed out with a bored married woman, a handsome artist, sexual combustion, and murder.
This corker has been newly filmed, in its original period setting, as “In Secret,” a stolid version of the story.
Rising star Elizabeth Olsen (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”) plays the central role. Therese has been raised by her fearsome aunt (Jessica Lange, almost but not quite breaking through to something formidable), whose own son Camille (Tom Felton) has been a sickly near-brother to Therese during childhood.
Therese is forced to marry Camille as a practical matter when the family moves to Paris, a move that puts Therese in proximity to Camille’s work friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac, from “Inside Llewyn Davis”).
Laurent fancies himself a painter, but Isaac has the eyes of a born sensualist, and one imagines Laurent has spent more time chasing other men’s wives than perfecting his brushstrokes.
He and Therese ignite; murder occurs; the descent into anxiety and guilt commences. But maybe guilt is the wrong word — there’s the sense that Therese and Laurent are mostly bored again and disgusted by what they’ve done. Without the thrill of adultery, even their bodies don’t interest them much. We killed a guy for this?
“In Secret” is the feature debut for director-writer Charlie Stratton, who does low-rent atmosphere just fine but flattens the action into a steady, dreary slog.
His best decision is casting Olsen, whose quick responses show us how Therese’s ennui mutates into desire with uncontrollable force.
And by the way, “Harry Potter” fans, Tom Felton (who played Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy throughout the series) is much more spirited in adult form than he ever was at Hogwarts; his Camille is pasty-faced, sincere and maybe not too bright.
These sparks aren’t enough to slap the movie into shape. This is a story that needs the relentless motion of a whirlpool, but dribbles away well before the end.
“In Secret” (two stars)
A straight, dreary adaptation of Emile Zola’s novel “Therese Raquin,” with Elizabeth Olsen and Oscar Isaac as the illicit lovers whose passion leads to murder. Well acted, but everything gets monotonous as it goes along.
Rated: R for nudity, subject matter.
Showing: Seven Gables.