It doesn’t say anything specific about Elizabeth, it’s about the actors of the movie in general.
Realistically complicated characters help bring this melodramatic thriller to life, drawing us into a murky mystery. The youthful cast is terrific at catching nuances in their interaction, with pressures at home feeding into outbursts at school. And the grown-ups are equally untidy. So if writer-director Ben Hickernell sometimes over-eggs things, the actors keep the movie grounded and tense, providing a kick that’s more forceful than we expect.
In a rough Baltimore suburb, brainy freshman Marcus (Hall) and his best pal Holly (Laurence) are surprised when they’re befriended by the cool older crowd, and even top jock Clay (Larracuente) has stopped bullying them. But Clay is mixed up with a drug dealer (Sylvester) and disgraced cop Steven (Ransone), and now Cassie (Whigham), the girl he likes, has gone missing. While police Captain Hilman (Mitchell) assigns Steven to help find her, the kids launch their own perilous investigation. And Marcus, Holly and their private-school buddy Grant (Shatkin) have no idea what they’re stumbling into. The multi-generational approach to the narrative is reminiscent of Stranger Things, with young teens, older kids and grown-ups taking distinctly different approaches to everything that happens. This gives the audience a range of interesting characters to follow, each of whom feels fully formed with a vivid life off-screen. And this makes the film much more intriguing than most thrillers, because each person is dealing with his or her personal issues even as their lives are diverted by Cassie’s disappearance.
The actors remain earthy even as they struggle with unwieldy dialog that gets downright soapy at times. While this clunky exposition undercuts the more intriguing character textures, at least the variety of people makes it easy to find several points of entry to the story. At the centre, Hall, Laurence and Shatkin make a terrific team, brave and terrified at the same time, determined to do what they can as the adults miss the point. Other standouts include Larracuente as an edgy golden boy with deep shadows and Badaki as Marcus’ tenacious mum.
The twisty plot is gripping, carrying the audience through the more overwrought scenes. And it worms its way under the skin because of subtler things going on under the surface. So while the big mystery about Cassie unravels without much fanfare, there’s still another half hour of real-time action, including an extended and very messy shootout and a series of nasty climactic confrontations. So in the end, while the narrative itself may feel somewhat arch, the underlying emotions connect strongly