Every Secret Thing has two young girls stealing a baby. The baby dies. This isn’t a spoiler. These events occur just before, and during, the opening credits. I’m telling you this right now because it may be the sort of movie that you need to steel yourself to watch. Anyway, things then move on to seven years later. The girls have grown up, they are back in society, and picking up their lives. Sort of. One of the girls, Ronnie (Dakota Fanning), seems destined to remain scarred by her past, both emotionally and physically. The other girl, Alice (Danielle Macdonald), has a much brighter outlook. But both are understandably worried when another small child goes missing. The police (in the shape of Elizabeth Banks and Nate Parker) don’t waste much time in bringing them in for questioning, and it looks as if present events may be linked to that horrible past.
Considering the subject matter, and the twists and turns that the movie takes, it’s easy to see why director Amy Berg took on the directorial duties here. And the script by Nicole Holofcener, based on a novel by Laura Lippman, has a lot of potential. Which is why the final result is so disappointing. You can sense some great ideas bubbling away under the surface, yet nothing rises to the top beyond the standard crime drama material that has been done so many times before. What could have been an interesting companion piece to We Need To Talk About Kevin or Heavenly Creatures instead just becomes a far inferior mix of The Hole (2001) and Beyond Obsession (1994).
The cast is as mixed as the execution of the material, which excels at showing very uncomfortable material in ways that won’t make you think it’s being exploitative. Macdonald is fine in the first half of the movie, until she’s asked to become a bit more over the top, and Fanning is often the best thing onscreen. Banks is playing someone with brown hair instead of her usual blonde, which I think is the lazy shortcut of getting viewers to realise just how serious she is. To be fair, she does better here than she has done with her past few non-comedic roles (I’m a fan, but I just can’t usually buy her in roles like this one). Parker is at least solid as her determined partner. Last, and also sadly least, we get Diane Lane as the mother of Alice. Lane does herself no favours at all with her rather bizarre performance, but it must be said that she’s greatly hindered by a script that seems to heap all of the worst lines and character tics upon her.
If you can’t wait to see this when it inevitably pops up somewhere as a “TV movie of the week” then don’t say that you weren’t warned. As well as the major negatives mentioned above, it’s also a dull, murky film visually, making one or two scenes annoyingly difficult to keep track of as characters disappear into shadowy areas. If it didn’t have those interesting ideas buried in the middle of it all, as ill-treated as they are, I’d be advising everyone to just completely avoid it.
Every Secret Thing is screening at EIFF 2015 on 19th and 20th June.
DIRECTOR: AMY BERG
WRITER: NICOLE HOLOFCENER, BASED ON THE NOVEL BY LAURA LIPPMAN
STARS: DIANE LANE, ELIZABETH BANKS, DAKOTA FANNING, DANIELLE MACDONALD, NATE PARKER, COMMON
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX