Released: 6th October
Seen: 17th October
One of the many repeated tropes of horror that has worked time and time again is “Someone does a murder, they or someone who loves them helps them lie to cover it up, the secret comes back to haunt them in the end”. This simple concept has led to literary classics like The Tell-Tale Heart, to cinematic classics like Rope and even been used in fun 90s slashers like I Know What You Did Last Summer. When done right, it’s a setup that creates tension right off the bat and the way the characters react to the knowledge of what they’ve done (or how what they’ve done turns them into the ultimate victims) creates the emotional core of the story… when done wrong you get The Lie.
The Lie begins with a murder, or at least the allegation of one. Kayla (Joey King) admits to her father Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) that she pushed her friend Britney (Devery Jacobs) off of a bridge into a river and killed her. Jay and his estranged wife Rebecca (Mirielle Enos) now have a dilemma, namely that they have to do what they can to protect their daughter and keep her from being charged with the murder of Britney… which is made even harder with Britney’s father Sam (Cas Anvar) constantly hanging around and asking where his daughter is.
So, this film is kind of boring and has almost no tension whatsoever. It takes a little while to get to the moment of “I accidentally killed my friend” but up to that point, the characters we’ve been asked to identify with are either bland or actively irritating and it’s impossible to care enough about them. Then once the murder happens, they throw on a layer of stupid like it’s a warm protective coat and that stupidity just hangs on them the entire time. No one tries to find and hide the body, no one seems to have a better plan than “Shut the hell up” and nothing about this situation in practice is remotely interesting.
The performances are just uninteresting, everything is so bland and the few moments when characters show an emotion are so overwrought that you almost want them to go back to being uninteresting again just for a bit of a break. The only person in the entire film that even seems to get what story they’re telling is Sam, the father desperate to try and find his daughter. His story was one I believed from start to finish and I bought every single second of it but everyone else… nup, didn’t buy it, didn’t rent it, couldn’t convince me to even put a down payment on it because their stories were so bad.
What’s most annoying about all this is that the ending is one of those glorious gut punches like the end of Life, a last minute swerve of insanity that could push a film from great to godlike. If the ending for this film had been on a movie that was more interesting or exciting it would be a shoe in for all those “Most shocking endings in horror” lists that inevitably include the ending from The Mist as a top entry. The final moments of this film are genuinely amazing… but not worth the 83 minutes I had to sit through to get there.
It’s a shame because there are ideas in this movie I genuinely think we need to see in more films. The entire ‘tension’ is about a pair of adults trying to protect their child from having their life destroyed because of one horrible thing that they did, that’s a relatable thing that I’m sure most people would understand but it’s also kind of hard when the entire family is just awful. The film also tries to tackle the racism inherent in the criminal justice system by having the South Asian father of the murdered girl be put under scrutiny by the cops and yes, we should have more films about how racist systems lead to the wrong people being looked into… except this is a missing persons case involving a minor, the parent is always looked into in this case so the actual punch of “Come see the racism inherent in the system!” doesn’t quite land well. Both of these ideas are important and I want to see more of them, just put them in a film that isn’t so boring.
I hate that the best word I can come up with to describe this film is boring, but that’s what I’ve got. I should not sit through a film about covering up a murder and be bored, that’s not a feeling one should have when dealing with a story of that kind of magnitude but here I am, bored out of my skull watching this film. This film clearly has a lot of skill behind it, some genuinely nice cinematography and a half decent score, there’s things here that offer the promise of something special but then you remember we’re watching a story about an annoying brat who may have killed her friend and her uninteresting parent’s badly cover for her and I just can’t enjoy it.
The Lie is the worst kind of bad, the kind that squanders all potential goodness in favour of blandness. The kind where you want to check to see if the film still has a pulse because it stopped moving and doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon. The last second brilliant ending can’t save a film that doesn’t want to be saved. I could lie and pretend it was just average, but that would be too much to lie about.