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The joy of being a cinephile is that the magic of movies never wears off – but there is also an inflection point where a particular drawback reveals itself. As unique as a collection of 100 random films can be, there is practically a guarantee that you can find certain narrative tools and applied affectations shared between them and used in analogous ways, and when your brain starts to catalog all of them and recognize patterns. And this means that with just a particular move or choice, a story can reveal its entire hand in an instant and become obvious.
A gun introduced in the first act will appear before the end of the third. A random news broadcast is most definitely never random. If a shady individual tells a protagonist not to trust anybody, then they are the one who should not be trusted.
When a movie opts to not subvert these tropes, it can be immensely frustrating – which brings us to Veena Sud’s The Lie. While I won’t get into specifics for spoiler reasons, this is a film that very much telegraphs its pitch in the first act, and goes almost exactly where most audiences will predict. In the majority of cases this would be a death knell, as unpredictability is one of the most beloved aspects of the cinematic experience, but this is an instance where the feature has enough merit to be called worth checking out for an exploration of interesting themes and a collection of sharp performances from the leads.
A remake of Sebastian Ko's 2015 film We Monsters that has been slated as one of the two films launching October 2020’s Welcome To The Blumhouse series on Amazon Prime, The Lie is a story centered on a fractured family of three. Teenager Kayla (Joey King) is stuck in the middle of the fracas between her recently-divorced mother, Rebecca (Mireille Enos), and father, Jay (Peter Sarsgaard), and all three of them are still getting used to the new way of life. It’s a challenge… but then things get infinitely worse one fateful snowy day.
As Jay, a wannabe musician, is driving his daughter to a ballet retreat, they see one of Kayla’s friends, Brittany (Devery Jacobs), waiting at a bus stop and agree to give her a ride given that they are going to the same place. In the car the girls begin to fight, and the unexpected happens when Jay pulls over to let the girls have a roadside bathroom break in the woods. Waiting by the car he hears screams through the trees, and when he finds his daughter he also discovers a nightmare: Kayla has killed her friend by pushing her off an icy bridge.
Not wanting to see his daughter’s life ruined, Jay immediately goes into defense mode and drives her back home, and while initially his plan is not to involve Rebecca, that approach quickly falls apart due to their odd behavior and her observational skills as a lawyer. Also wanting to protect Kayla at all costs, Rebecca agrees to take part in the cover-up, and it winds up leading the family to places from which they can’t come back.
The Lie keeps you engaged by pressing the gas pedal on its big overarching question.
On the horror scale, The Lie is clearly more psychological than slasher, but finds a prime well for its scares in its setup: how much of your own future would you give up in order to protect the future of a person you deeply care about? To love somebody is to give them a part of yourself, and it can be terrifying to have that part of yourself out of your control – as this film demonstrates with its circumstance. It’s a story grounded in a relatable reality, and while the characters don’t always make the most brilliant moves, they’re excused in the stress and panic, and there is a smart escalation of drama in the narrative.
The story is all about emotional response to serious circumstance, and Peter Sarsgaard, Mireille Enos, and Joey King are great.
For Rebecca and Jay, The Lie operates as a character study that examines their reactions in the fallout of the atom bomb dropped by their daughter, and both Mireille Enos and Peter Sarsgaard do excellent work with the material. These leads aren’t exactly people who you instantly sympathize with, as the cold truth of the matter is that they are trying to cover up the murder of a teenage girl, but the actors make you care by deeply illustrating the intense affection they have for their daughter and driving home the reality that unconditional love can trounce rationality.
Joey King is given entirely different material to work with, and it works in its own way. Kayla doesn’t precisely have the most relaxed disposition after committing murder, and her manic attitude does quite a lot to add to the drama. Not only do Rebecca and Jay have to worry about covering her tracks from the crime scene, but as her behavior becomes more erratic she becomes a liability in the cover-up. It’s a believable, well-performed emotional journey that also interestingly takes on different weight when examined with the whole movie in mind.
There is no denying that the end of The Lie is problematic and predictable.
There is a lot to appreciate about The Lie, but one also can’t ignore that its ending lets a whole lot of air out of the tire. It would be surprising if less than 75 percent of the audience could predict what the conclusion of the film would be solely based on events that transpire in the first 30 minutes – and that’s probably being generous. There are moments where you question the forecast a little, as the narrative occasionally tilts in alternate directions, but really it’s always on the same road, and when you arrive at the destination it’s hard to feel anything more than disappointment.
The Lie first premiered over two years ago, playing at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, and it’s not tremendously hard to see why it sat on a shelf for as long as it did: it doesn’t present that much to be excited about. What it could be good for, though, is for staying in for the night searching for an interesting horror movie to stream in the run up to Halloween – which is exactly what the Welcome To The Blumhouse series is for. It won’t blow your mind, but it’s an engaging 97 minute diversion.