The psychological mystery "Every Secret Thing" boasts crackerjack documentarian Amy Berg's fiction feature debut, Frances McDormand as a producer, a screenplay by awkward-moments master Nicole Holofcener and a killer cast that includes Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks, Dakota Fanning and Common.
But rather than stir up a tantalizing puzzle surrounding the truth behind two toddler kidnappings seven years apart and a pair of convicted child killers (Fanning and Danielle Macdonald) newly released from juvenile lockup, this movie raises the question: How could it have gone so wrong?
Crushingly listless and at times as off-putting as a needle scratching vinyl, this corkscrew tale of questionable (and questioned) parenting, youthful misjudgments, grudges and disappointments doesn't even have the disciplined domestic-evil allure of a Lifetime movie.
Berg, whose docs ("Deliver Us From Evil") effortlessly chill, seems trapped between procedural naturalism (Banks is woefully stiff as an investigating detective), social realism in its depiction of a frayed community and the cloak-and-reveal demands of a potboiler (where Lane's manipulative-mom portrayal belongs). Adapted from Laura Lippman's novel, the film also has an overreliance on shadowy cinematography that feels like a recipe for Instant Mood rather than something drawn organically from the material.
In the end, "Every Secret Thing" wants the enigma of bad behavior to burn like an eternal flame, but overall the movie just feels like one very cold case.
"Every Secret Thing"
MPAA rating: R for language, disturbing images.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.