Director: Veena Sud
Stars: Mireille Enos, Peter Sarsgaard, Joey King
A look at the copyright date stamp for The Lie reveals that, while it may be new to Amazon Prime as part of the ‘Welcome to the Blumhouse’ cycle of TV movies for Halloween, it’s been on the shelf for a couple of years. This needn’t mean anything (one of my favourite horror movies of the ’10s, You’re Next, got stuck in distribution hell for a couple of years before making it to cinemas), but it can be a sign of a studio’s nervousness or lack of confidence in the finished product.
The Lie tends to suggest such doubts throughout. Veena Sud’s twisting tale lunges at every incredulous turn.
Joey King is Kayla, the 15-year-old daughter of a typical modern family, i.e. her parents are separated. While on a drive with her musician father Jay (Peter Sarsgaard), she spies a school friend by the side of the road. They stop to give her a lift. Following a fateful bathroom break in the winter woods, said school friend – Britney (Devery Jacobs) – never makes it to her destination. Kayla admits responsibility for the horrifying incident, and Jay chooses to keep her secret. Pretty soon Kayle’s mother, Rebecca (Mireille Enos), is in on it, too.
This is the second time Sarsgaard has played protective father to a murderous ward following Jaume Collet-Serra’s joyfully batty 2009 horror Orphan. Sadly, Sud’s offering lacks that movie’s verve when it comes to amping up the crazy. There’s a lot of wrought melodrama here, for sure, and some of the plot developments fight credulity, but the presentation is muted.
This creates an atmosphere of its own, of course. The Lie is feathered with snowfall, and the sense of deep chill is made palpable, complimenting the sense that this shattered family unit is now frozen together in Kayla’s morbid conspiracy. But, just like Black Box released at the same time as The Lie, this feels like a piece that’s been somewhat mis-sold to us; conveniently repackaged as part of a horror anthology when its bones are actually something different. Where Black Box is more of a sci-fi story, The Lie smacks of soap opera. A silly, rather tepid thriller that might not have caught much attention in theatres even at the best of times, let alone in the midst of Covid. Said repackaging might ultimately provide the movie with more of an audience than it would have found otherwise, but that doesn’t mean it stands to receive a better reception. It’s too self-serious; a choice which occasionally goes so far as to invite unintended laughs. Adding to the flavour of made-for-TV obscurity is the presence of former recurring X-Files guest star Nicholas Lea, here cast in a lamentable role as a sleazy, racist detective.
Given that this piece is already nominally dated, it’s a relief to see that some of those involved have sprung on to more interesting projects. King gained praise and Emmy attention for her work on mini-series The Act, while Sud has since become the driving force behind an intriguing-sounding short mini-series called The Stranger starring Maika Monroe. For the likes of Sarsgaard and Enos, meanwhile, this isn’t remarkable enough to dent their already dependable roles in the American character-actor roster.
But when the best you can say about a piece is that it probably hasn’t damaged any careers too badly, that’s slim praise indeed. As a woman and a POC in the film industry, I wish Sud all the best going forward, and I intend on checking out The Stranger. But for now this is sadly quite skippable unless you decide to become a ‘Welcome to the Blumhouse’ completist, something which has yet to be well-seeded as exactly aspirational.