Intriguing yet unsatisfying, the thriller Every Secret Thing feels like an experiment for its filmmakers. Director Amy Berg is known as a thoughtful documentarian (Deliver Us From Evil, West of Memphis); screenwriter Nicole Holofcener is a writer/director of sophisticated grown-up comedy (Enough Said, Please Give). Here, the two meet over a Laura Lippman suspense novel about kidnapped babies and strange teenage girls, and the result is … well, a little strange. It’s a movie so well cast and meticulous that you want it to be better than it is, but you’re left shaking your head, wondering where things went wrong.
The problem, I think, is the source material: Lippman’s novel, not her best, feels formulaic. Two 18-year-old girls, Alice (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie (Dakota Fanning), have just been released from seven years in detention for the kidnapping and murder of a baby girl. Just like that, another child goes missing, and a dedicated police detective (Elizabeth Banks) — with a history of getting too close to her cases, like nearly every detective in the movies — thinks Alice and Ronnie know what happened. Gradually, we see flashbacks that show us the events of seven years ago, and get to know these two very different girls: Alice, chatty and defiant; Ronnie, quiet and haunted. Alice’s theatrical mother (Diane Lane) lurks nearby, breathily adding her own drama.
Fanning, who does uncanny stillness better than just about anyone, wordlessly holds the movie in her hand during her scenes, and Banks finds something moving in her underwritten role. But the plot goes awry — by the end, once every secret thing is revealed, you may find yourself not believing any of it.
Cast: Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks, Dakota Fanning, Danielle Macdonald, Nate Parker, Common.
Director: Amy Berg.
Screenwriter: Nicole Holofcener. Based on the novel by Laura Lippman.
An Anchor Bay/STARZ release. Running time: 93 minutes. Vulgar language, disturbing images. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford Cinema.