Film Review – The Lie
The distribution deal between Blumhouse and Amazon Studios involves the streaming release of four thrillers in the month of October, labeled “Welcome to The Blumhouse.” The release schedule groups them into pairs. The first two feature the excellent Black Box (2020) and the not so good The Lie. A remake of the German Wir Monster (2015), it was produced in 2018 and was eventually packaged as a kind of lesser half of a double bill. It’s a shame, given that there was plenty of potential here, but whatever promise there was is bogged down by a narrative that just doesn’t work.
Written and directed by Veena Sud, this is a crime drama about characters that get in way over their heads. No matter what they do or what schemes they devise, they end up digging themselves into a bigger hole. This framework is not a new one, but when executed well can make for moments of high tension. Think of what William H. Macy’s character goes through in Fargo (1996) or what Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton stumble upon in A Simple Plan (1998). These are people that have no business committing a crime but think they are smart enough to get away with it. The draw is seeing how they cope with their plans backfiring in their faces.
This premise is a tricky one to navigate, because the slightest misstep will make your characters look like fools. They make one bad choice after another not because of the fear of being discovered but because they’re too dumb to know better. And that’s the inherent issue of The Lie. We meet Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) and Rebecca (Mireille Enos), the divorced parents of teenager Kayla (Joey King). Jay and Rebecca try to make the best of their situation, but it’s clear that there is lingering pain between them. This effects Kayla, who often appears distant or aloof.
On the way to a dance camp, Jay pulls over on the side of the road so that Kayla and her friend Britney (Devery Jacobs) can have a bathroom break in the nearby woods. When Jay notices they’ve been gone awhile, he goes searching for them only to discover Kayla by herself and Britney having disappeared. Kayla confesses that something terrible has happened, and this sets off the entire rest of the plot. Instead of going to the authorities, Jay, Kayla, and Rebecca (who was not present at the time) decide to band together and keep their secret hidden. This plan turns south immediately, as each family member can’t keep their stories straight. There’s also the introduction of Britney’s father Sam (Cas Anvar), who knows that she and Kayla were close and comes snooping around asking if they know what happened to her.
On paper, this sounds intriguing enough. But onscreen, there is a severe lack of suspense. This is most noticeable from the characters themselves. Kayla, Jay, and Rebecca are not interesting enough as people for us to care if they succeed. We don’t get much character development outside of them trying – and failing – to conceal their guilt. It’s almost despicable how they try to push any suspicion away from them. We learn that they are an upper-class family – Jay lives in the middle of the city while Rebecca and Kayla live in a large modern style home. One of their tactics is to utilize their connections with the police to steer the focus to Sam, who is Pakistani. The fact that they use their white privilege as a means to falsely accuse a person of color makes them all the more unlikeable.
Is that the point the movie is trying to make – that when put under dire circumstances that the worst sides of people will be exposed? Perhaps, but the production isn’t smart enough to delve into that idea further. Instead of examining class and racial inequalities of crime and justice, we have to sit back and witness Jay and Rebecca blunder their way through their plan while Kayla stands by oddly unaffected by it all. There is a cold, clinical tone, not just because of the snow-filled setting but how the scenes play out. Everything feels…disconnected, from the white, gray, and black color palette to how slow and methodical events unfold.
The Lie ends with one of the dumbest twists I’ve seen in a long time. The final explanation is mind-numbingly preposterous – impossible to take seriously because of how cheap and manipulative it is. It doesn’t make sense from a storytelling standpoint. To make an ending like this believable, you have to convince an audience that your characters can’t do basic human functions like holding on to a cell phone or remembering to use their inhalers. The twist is so bad that I doubt M. Night Shyamalan would have gone there. You might read this review and think, “Well, this sounds like something I would want to check out!” You’re welcome to do so and make up your own opinion, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.