Directed by Veena Sud
Would you let your child away with murder? It’s an immediately exciting question that, with the right marketing, could sell a million airport thrillers. It’s also the ethical dilemma at the core of The Lie – Veena Sud’s remake of the German film “Wir Monster”. A movie which, along with Black Box, has the honour of kicking off Amazon’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” Halloween series. In it, separated parents Jay (Sarsgaard) and Rebecca (Enos) are reluctantly reunited in their efforts to protect their 15-year-old daughter Kayla (King) from the law, after she murders her school pal Britney in cold blood.
The opening scenes are a great example of storytelling efficiency. Within the first ten minutes, we learn the state of the parents’ marriage, and their different approaches to handling their daughter: mum thinks she’s a “spoilt brat” and dad is a pushover. Also, through how both try to keep their current love life from the other, we learn that Kayla is used to keeping secrets with them. We also know Kayla wants her parents to treat her like an adult, isn’t enthusiastic about the ballet retreat Jay and Rebecca want to send her to, and doesn’t appear to like her “best friend” Britney much after she flirts with Jay. Hence the scene where he finds her looking over the bridge, she says she shoved her friend off, it seems like a logical culmination of events.
If only I could say the same thing about the 75 minutes or so that follows. The cover-up plot, which makes up the bulk of the movie, hinges on characters doing things that are not only stupid but unbelievably so. They hold on to objects they shouldn’t, withhold critical information for no reason and can’t stick to the same story for more than five minutes. Look I’d be lying to you if I were to say I could commit the perfect murder – I’d be as bad at concealing the truth as I am at reviewing novels. Still, one thing I definitely wouldn’t do is take a dead person’s phone and purse and keep a hold of them. Nor would I leave my house in full view of someone my partner has already told I wasn’t around. Then there’s the ending. I don’t want to spoil the third act, though I will say that the explanation is something I smugly joked about happening reasonably early on. Then, as the film continued, I looked for evidence on the contrary and couldn’t find any. It just about makes sense, even if some details beggar belief. However, it is out of sync with all that has come before. Too goofy for a serious drama, and too straight-faced for a black comedy caper, The Lie is a frustrating blend of good ideas that don’t quite work together despite the cast’s best efforts. All three leads are on fire – notably Joey King, who is the only one that gets to have any fun in her part. We can buy the desperation of the parents to conceal what she’s done, and I was impressed by how realistic a family unit they make despite the often-outlandish things they have to deal with or do.
It’s a testament to the performances that they achieve this bond with such a lightweight script – one that’s far more concerned with procedure than themes. This decision is perhaps understandable, since its ostensibly a thriller, and to Sud’s credit, she does a decent job of piling on the pressure. Yet the pace never slows down enough for the characters to interrogate some of the concept’s more interesting questions: how much of this is the parents’ fault? They never seem to wrestle with the possibility they have raised a psychopath. As an arena in which to explore the nature vs nurture question, this story is as good as any. But frustratingly Sud has only superficial engagements with the things that make her elevator pitch so intriguing. Some of the most significant scenes happen off-screen, such as Kayla breaking the news to Rebecca, and others are rushed along for the next bit where their alibis get undermined.
Admittedly, even if Sud skims on the substance, she crafts some of the thriller scenes impeccably, bestowing them with a sense of peril. There are moments of real tension – mainly when Britney’s dad Sam (Anvar) is involved. She also implicates audience members well, and towards the end, it was uncomfortable in the right way to watch the parents try to pin the blame on this grieving father and realising I wanted them to succeed. On this point, there is a promising scapegoating slant to The Lie, with two wealthy white people, one of whom works in the legal system and lives in a massive house, trying to pin everything on a single parent who is Pakistani. Although because of the need to have a full-bodied antagonist, Sud cheapens this angle by playing his scenes so overtly for horror. Sam hovers around in the peripheral, waiting for the right opportunity to strike like a shark. And while I was satisfied with how this subplot escalates, it worked despite itself. A sentence I could apply to the whole film.
The Lie is now available on Amazon Prime.