City Paper grade: D
Émile Zola’s oft-adapted novel Thérèse Raquin returns to the screen with a bland new title befitting its dour, mopey approach. Actor-turned-director Charlie Stratton cut his teeth helming episodes of Everwood and Revenge, and brings to Zola’s story of lust, murder and remorse a low-simmering passion that wouldn’t suffer from being interrupted by fast food ads.
The tale’s broad outline remains the same: After the death of her mother, Thérèse (Elizabeth Olsen) is handed over to her domineering aunt (Jessica Lange) and raised sharing a bed with her sickly cousin Camille (Harry Potter’s Tom Felton, with a pasty complexion, stringy hair and persistent cough). Madame Raquin eventually decides to marry the children to one another. After the family moves to Paris, Thérèse is introduced to Camille’s boyhood friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac), an artist who’s thrilled to find a woman so inexperienced that she flushes at his clumsy lines about flicking his brush across a model’s thigh.
They inevitably begin an affair and commit a murder, after which the couple are haunted by the specter of their crime. Only Stratton develops Zola's pointed misanthropy into a dour trudge, set against the murkiest City of Lights in memory. Paris is here played by Eastern Europe, candlelight flickering a sickly green that goes a long way toward explaining why, even in the throes of sexual ecstasy, everyone remains so unrelievedly miserable.
Stratton seems to believe that corsets and petticoats automatically amplify passion, and leaves Olsen to telegraph her lust with quick intakes of breath and pained swoons. Isaac, meanwhile, seems as discontent in his adulterous liaisons as he does couch-hopping in Inside Llewyn Davis, where the sourness is more appropriate. Theirs is an affair more dyspeptic than all-consuming, observed at a clinical remove by a disinterested director.
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