Seasoned documentary director Amy Berg’s first fiction film Every Secret Thing suggests she’s yet to develop the knack for crafting invented stories. Review by Katrina Conaglen.
Post the wild success of David Fincher’s Gone Girl adaptation, a memo must have circulated Hollywood: “Audiences like twists! Brash, sex-related, far-fetched twists! Screw plausibility! Twists are where it’s at!”
Such a memo would surely explain the existence of Every Secret Thing, the new thriller adapted from Laura Lippman’s popular airport novel. It starts out suggesting it might have interesting things to say about feminine identity and relationships and then shrugs its proverbial shoulders, gives up, and spends its second half shoe-horning as many improbable plot turns as possible into its remaining run time.
The result is leaden and dull, a working demonstration of what it is to experience shock fatigue (I designate this a thing now).
It starts off with the abduction and murder of a baby by two eleven year old girls, one lithe, lovely, and unhinged, the other fat and bitter. Their crime is uncovered by a plucky young cop (Elizabeth Banks, perfectly serviceable).
Cut to seven years later, and the incarcerated girls are released as maladjusted, wary young women – the lanky one now a kohl-eyed Dakota Fanning (stroppy and startled). The disappearance of a second young child leads Banks to revisit her prior case and realise things weren’t as clear-cut as she initially thought. If the past paragraph felt tired, hackneyed, riddled with cliché, well, that’s because the film is.
This could all be summarily dismissed as straight-to-DVD pap were it not for two problems. The first is that the talent behind the film is so considerable it engenders false expectation. Scripted by Nicole Holofocener, the writer/director of Lovely and Amazing, Enough Said, and Walking and Talking, it’s entirely understandable that one expects her prior form for delicate and warm-hearted depictions of feminine strength and neuroses will again be at the fore.
Depressingly, characters are instead shrill, venal, and one-dimensional. Similarly the director Amy Berg rose to prominence with the sterling documentary West of Memphis, but none of that picture’s nuance or compassion are on display here. And as the mother of the heftier of the two murderers, the usually reliable Diane Lane does little more than neck wine aggressively and look irritated. It’s enough to lead you to want to do the same.
The more egregious problem with Every Secret Thing, though, is it’s use of not one but two “baby-in-peril” plot points. The “baby-in-peril” trope is about as wilfully manipulative a premise for a film as you could hope for: it’s like illuminating a big red sign in front of the audience saying “FEEL HORRIFIED NOW.”
This being the case, you want the surrounding film to be either artistic and insightful, or slick and compelling.
Every Secret Thing is neither. It’s a shallow mindless mess of a movie, determined to shock a reaction out of you. Counter to its desires, though, that reaction is boredom.