Director: Amy Berg, Writer: Nicole Holofcener
Cast: Diane Lane, Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Banks, Danielle MacDonald, Nate Parker
99min Psychodrama | Mystery | US
Oscar-nominated Amy Berg brings her documentary expertise (West of Memphis | Deliver Us From Evil ) to bear in this feature debut that makes an interesting pairing with her documentary Prophet’s Prey, also screening at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, touching on similar issues. Although initially challenged by its fractured narrative style that takes place in two different time lines, the overtly sombre-toned psychological drama, based on Laura Lippman’s best-seller, goes on to exert a relentlessly unsettling grip throughout its 93 minute running time.
This is largely down to four good female performances from Elizabeth Banks, Diane Lane, Dakota Fanning and Danielle Macdonald). Ronnie and Alice, (played as adults by Dakota Fanning and Danielle Macdonald, respectively) are suspected of kidnapping two mixed-race kids in separate incidents a decade apart. We join the story as an investigation into the latest disappearance is taking place in contempo New York state. And gradually we discover more about the initial crime which resulted in the young girls being incarcerated for 10 years until they emerge as women in their late teens. Told through flashbacks with mock newspaper footage and news bulletins, the original murder is relayed from the perspective of the young girls, as the real story only emerges in the final stages of the movie.
Skilful edits require intense concentration as we bring our instincts to the forefront. In analysing the characters of the girls and their families, we become involved in determining the upshot of a story of female disturbance and deception that is open to so many different possibilities, twists and turns. Berg casts aspersions at a dreadful early childhood for both Alice and Ronnie but the circumstances surrounding their start in life, that lead them to become, in effect, psychopaths, is shrouded in mystery. Even at the finale, there is no way of knowing exactly who initiated the kidnapping or who committed the murder although it is possible to make an educated guess based on our own experience and intuitions. There is also the element of false memory that makes this a very exciting and engaging drama, particularly from a feminine perspective.
Themes of parenting, bullying, dating, adoption, the break-down on the family unit and its affects on female relationships, not to mention issues of re-integration into the community, are all carefully woven into the storyline and seen from each different female’s perspective with Rob Hardy’s stunning cinematography which incorporates inventive camera angles and a haunting original score from Robin Coudert (Populaire).
Diane Lane is superb as a single mother who appears to be grappling with a difficult daughter who she is also in competition with, as a female. Dakota Fanning is mesmerising, particularly in one scene where she attains almost horror status as a outwardly vulnerable but clearly cunning individual. But Danielle MacDonald gives the most frightening turn as a narcissistic fantasist with body image issues. And last, but not least, Elizabeth Banks plays an awarded woman detective tasked with investigating the case and bringing her own psychological insight into this nest of vipers. You will have a field day. MT
EVERY SECRET THING screens at EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 -28 JUNE 2015.