THE LIE (2018)
A father and daughter are on their way to dance camp, but when they stop to offer the friend a ride, their good intentions soon result in terrible consequences.
With their low-budget big-profit formula, Blumhouse Production has been a powerhouse over the last decade. And it’s not just horror they’ve found success with, as they were also behind Whiplash (2014) and BlacKkKlansman (2018). Their latest project, ‘Welcome to the Blumhouse’, is in conjunction with Amazon Studios, offering an anthology of four horrors during October.
The Lie is released alongside their psychological-thriller Black Box (2020), but was originally made under the title Between the Earth and Sky and premiered at 2018’s Toronto International Film Festival. Unfortunately, it failed to make any noise due to being overshadowed by A Star is Born (2018) and First Man (2018), resulting in it being put on the back-burner for two years before being picked up by Blumhouse. Loosely based on the 2015 German chiller Wir Monster / We Monster, The Lie was written and directed by The Killing producer Veena Sud. In her second feature-length movie, the Canadian filmmaker examines how far parents will go to protect their children.
Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) and Rebecca (Mireille Enos) are divorced parents of 15-year old Kayla (Joey King), drawn back together by tragic circumstances. While driving his daughter to a ballet retreat, Jay picks up her friend Brittany (Devery Jacobs) and, midway through the drive, the girls insist they pull over in a remote area to go to the toilet. When they don’t come back, Jay goes looking for them only to find his daughter distraught after admitting to pushing her friend off a nearby bridge. Jay and Rebecca scramble to cover up their daughter’s crime, but while doing so they find themselves becoming tangled in their own web lies.
What holds this family drama together is the incredible work from the cast. Audiences may be familiar with Joey King from lighter fare such as Summer ’03 (2018) and Kissing Booth (2018). After finishing this picture in 2018, the actress went on to earn an Emmy Award nomination for her work in the miniseries The Act (2019), where she portrayed the calculating real-life killer Gypsy Rose Blanchard. She continues to demonstrate her range here, playing sociopathic teen Kayla. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get much to do, but she sells her role as an unnerving adolescent brilliantly. As the stakes keep escalating, Kayla remains nonchalant to her crime. There are several extremely chilling moments that make her complex character hard to pin down. The morning after the incident she’s joyously cooking breakfast for her parents and later she’s laughing at cartoons. Kayla’s a puzzle wrapped in an enigma as she switches from happy to raging.
Sarsgaard is wonderful as always, finding himself on familiar ground having played a similar role in Human Capital (2019). He’s the cool dad who plays in a band and will cave into his daughter’s demands. Enos gives a razor-sharp performance as Kayla’s stern mother, Rebecca, resembling a distressed Julianne Moore and enforcing daily routines on her daughter. Sarsgaard and Enos both give nuanced performances portraying the pain of their characters. While bearing the burdens of their divorce, they’re challenged with having to protect their daughter over anything else.
Rebecca initially wants to take Kayla to the police, but Jay takes a stance saying “it’s our daughter, we must protect her”. However, he only makes things worse as his lies force the family into increasingly dangerous situations. Having previously worked together on an episode of AMC’s The Killing, there’s a natural chemistry between these actors that emanates from the screen.
Writer-director Veena Sud has a deft hand creating atmosphere and tone. With a background in crime dramas such as Cold Case and Seven Seconds, she imbues The Lie with similar energy. Taking advantage of the brisk winter setting, Sud wraps the isolated characters inside an ice-cold blanket. Aesthetically, the light-blue tone is wonderfully melancholic and perfect for the story. Peter Wunstorf’s (Meditation Park) cinematography also captures the environment beautifully and evokes Norwegian noir The Snowman (2017).
Unfortunately, Sud leans too heavily on a filmmaker’s playbook that undermines what works so well. While mainly taking place in Rebecca’s modernist home, production designer Elisa Sauve constructs the setting with large glass panels, giving Sud the opportunity to heighten the tension in a Hitchcockian manner. Further, it’s pandering as the director sprinkles unsubtle clues that scream ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ throughout… causing the big reveal to fizzle without a bang.
After watching The Lie, it’s understandable why it sat on the shelf for two years. The script had the potential to be a clever morality tale about the psychological horrors of keeping a secret. Similar to Luce (2019), Sud could have examined the depths a parent would go to protect their offspring. Alternatively, it could have explored the consequences caused by covering up a child’s crime, echoing We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011). However, The Lie stretches believability almost immediately as each plot point becomes more ludicrous than the next. Due to their actions, each character lacks any redeemable qualities and there’s no drive to care about the family’s predicament. With some additional dark humour, watching the ill-advised cover-ups could have been enjoyable, like Shallow Grave (1994) or Fargo (1996). However, as they repeatedly make outlandish decisions and the collateral damage increases, there’s no suspense or amusement in their actions. The script strives to remind audiences of Big Little Lies (2017-19), but it’s is too mindless to be a hard-hitting drama and too serious to be a dark comedy.
The most frustrating aspect is that Sud dangles inexplicable plot devices like a carrot, with no intention of exploring them. There’s a moment when Kayla and her father are sat by a pool having a conversation. While revealing a nasty self-inflicted wound on her arm, Kayla admits “I do it because the boys don’t look at me like they look at Brittany. Am I pretty daddy?” Additionally, Jay and Rebecca attempt to pin the blame on Brittany’s Pakistani father, Sam (Cas Anvar). This brings out the prejudices of two police officers (Patti Kim and Nicholas Lea) during an interrogation—one of which makes a remark drenched in racial profiling. These brief moments could have added so much more depth to the overall story. The director could have tackled subjects such as women valuing themselves through male attention, along with the mental health crisis amongst teenagers. Moreover, racial injustice and how human beings are treated differently based on the colour of their skin. These are poignant themes that would make for some delicious text, but the director chooses to diminish them.
Despite being repackaged and marketed as a horror-thriller from Blumhouse, The Lie barely flirts with the elements the studio is most strongly associated with. One could argue it’s nether a horror or a thriller. Tonally it evokes a daytime drama airing an obscure TV channel. Sud continuously uses cliches such as an unfortunately timed ringing telephone or doorbell to generate any suspense. Having said that, there’s a fleeting moment where it seems like The Lie might turn in to something particularly thrilling: as Sam chases after Kayla to learn the truth, there’s a brief home invasion element the director momentarily toys with. Unfortunately, this sequence is the only time The Lie starts to create a shred of tension. In true Blumhouse fashion, there’s an attempt to ramp up the story with a shocking twist, too, but veterans may find it predictable.
For all their acclaim, Blumhouse does have a history of disappointing remakes, from Martyrs (2016) and Black Christmas (2019) to Fantasy Island (2020). Unfortunately, Veena Sud’s reworking of Wir Monster can be added to that list. Under the surface are hints of an intriguing examination of the marital divide, teenage mental health, and white privilege…. but The Lie fails to tackle any of them enough to create an interesting story. The beautiful visuals and excellent chemistry between the leads are the only things that make this feature bearable. Overall, it becomes a ridiculous account of intelligent people making unintelligent decisions and an idiots guide to parenting a teenager.
USA | 2018 | 97 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
director: Veena Sud.
writer: Veena Sud (based on the film ‘We Monsters’ written by Marcus Seibert & Sebastian Ko).
starring: Mireille Enos, Peter Sarsgaard, Joey King, Cas Anvar, Devery Jacobs, Nicholas Lea & Patti Kim.