Lie, The (United States, 2018)

October 06, 2020
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Lie, The Poster

Spoiler Alert: This review contains oblique spoilers. It doesn’t reveal any specifics but there’s an argument that even hinting at something (without discussing it in detail) can be considered a spoiler. You have been warned.

The October 2020 release of Veena Sud’s The Lie (originally titled Between Earth and Sky) is part of a deal between Blumhouse and Amazon Studios to take four films from the former’s vault and make them available as a sort-of Halloween present to Amazon Prime subscribers. The Lie exemplifies Blumhouse at its worst and it’s not hard to see why this failed Hitchcock wannabe was never released theatrically. Even at the attractive price of “free,” it’s not worth it because watching it requires 97 minutes and that’s not time well spent.

The movie starts with some promise as it uses “home footage” to introduce the primary characters: Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) and Rebecca (Mireille Enos) and their daughter, Kayla (Joey King). When we connect with this family in the “present” timeframe, Kayla is a moody teenager on her way to a “dance camp” and her parents, although still on good terms, have split. Jay is given the task of driving his daughter across the snowy roads of Canada; along the way, they spot Kayla’s best friend, Brittany (Devery Jacobs), waiting at a bus stop. The girls’ playful banter in the back seat reveals an unbalanced power dynamic between the two with Kayla showing hints of anger and resentment and Brittany poking and prodding (her actions include some inexpert attempts at flirting with Jay). The downward spiral begins when they pull over to let the girls relieve themselves. The friends wander away from the road into the woods. When Jay becomes concerned that they have been gone too long, he starts searching and discovers his daughter on a foot bridge crossing a river. Jay intuits that Brittany has fallen but Kayla shocks him by claiming that she pushed her best friend. Panicked and seeking to protect Kayla, Jay whisks her from the scene. This starts a chain of circumstances that leads to darker, sometimes criminal acts designed to obfuscate Brittany’s fate and what happened on the bridge.

Alfred Hitchcock used the term “refrigerator movie” to describe a thriller that worked “in the moment” but fell apart during a post-credits postmortem. Many psychological thrillers fall into this category. (Joe Eszterhas was a master of these in the 1980s and 1990s.) Sud (one of the creative forces behind the television series The Killing), adapting the 2015 German film Wir Monster (which I haven’t seen), clearly intends for The Lie to function as a refrigerator movie. Unfortunately, the screenplay is too clunky and artificial and it commits the cardinal sin of allowing the viewer to recognize inconsistencies and logical faults during the proceedings rather than afterward. This disallows the temporary suspension of disbelief necessary for The Lie to work. It feels false from beginning to end and at no point are we able to accept that characters as convincing individuals rather than constructs dancing to the promptings of a puppet master.

Like many Blumhouse offerings, The Lie features a third-act twist. And, although it can be argued that this development is both surprising and shocking (at least for those who don’t see it coming), it muddies the already-murky waters to the point where clarity is impossible. If one was to rewatch the film after knowing the ending, huge chunks would make no sense whatsoever. Admittedly, the same claim can be made about many thrillers but the best movies make an effort to seal off as many plot holes as possible. That’s not the case here. The Lie’s whole motivation is to manipulate characters, narrative, and point-of-view in such a way that the viewer is disorientated by the climactic revelation.

Sud maintains an effectively gloomy atmosphere and, to aid her desire to amp up the sense of claustrophobic tension, she elicits low-energy performances from all three leads. The movie is so narratively-focused, however, that it quickly loses sight of the characters. They cease being worthy of sympathy or interest not long after the opening montage of home movie footage and, like idiots in inferior horror films, they make so many bad decisions that they teeter on the edge of self-parody. Only the relentlessly downbeat tone informs us that this excursion into tedium is intended to be taken seriously and isn’t a sendup of the genre. This is the kind of movie that Mystery Science Theater 3K would have had a field day with.

Lie, The (United States, 2018)

Run Time: 1:37
U.S. Release Date: 2020-10-06
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Content)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1