The Lie‘s smart casting and frigid atmosphere work well, but it’s too toothless in its critique of helicopter parenting to leave a more lasting impression.
This review of Welcome to the Blumhouse: The Lie is spoiler-free.
There’s something about Joey King’s face. I’m not sure what it is. It’s rare to find a young actress who is equally at home playing the pretty love interest in a romantic comedy – as she did in Netflix’s The Kissing Booth and its tortuously overlong sequel – as the manipulative sociopath she embodies here in The Lie, the first of a planned eight thrillers produced by Jason Blum’s Blumhouse in collaboration with Amazon Studios. Collected under the anthological umbrella Welcome to the Blumhouse, The Lie lets us see through King’s big, interesting eyes how helicopter parenting can hover over a bubble of privilege that treats murder as a cavalier parent-trap device.
King plays Kayla, the teenage daughter of ex-spouses Rebecca (Mireille Enos) and Jay (Peter Sarsgaard). To the audience, these two splitting up makes complete sense; their being together in the first place is more of a stretch. But to Kayla, it’s a mystery why her careerist attorney mother, who lives in a swish but sterile condo in Canadian suburbia, wasn’t getting on with her wannabe musician dad, who is currently living a bohemian life of arrested development with his new squeeze, Trini (Dani Kind).
What Veena Sud, remaking Sebastian Ko’s little-seen German film We Monsters, is trying to do here is sketch a quick picture of fraught separation so that we know what follows is a consequence of it. And what follows is this: Jay takes Kayla to a weekend-long ballet retreat and, on the way and under Kayla’s instruction, picks up her close friend Brittany (Devery Jacobs), who’s waiting for a bus and is heading to the same retreat. Brittany begins to obviously and suspiciously flirt with Jay and Bicker with Kayla; to me, this scene rang false in ways that I don’t think the script intended, painting Brittany as some kind of stuck-up queen bee that Kayla barely knows. With that in mind, it hardly comes as a surprise when the girls demand that Jay pull over so they can use the bathroom and promptly disappear into the frigid Canadian wilderness.
They don’t stay missing for long. Soon, Jay finds Kayla sat on a bridge overlooking an icy river below, crying and claiming to have pushed Brittany in, ostensibly as revenge for flirting with him. Thus, Jay and Rebecca have to “get back together” in order to cover-up Kayla’s crime and help her swerve the authorities, which initially brings them closer than they’ve been for a while but quickly begins to take a toll that neither is capable of handling, especially as more mistruths begin to pile up and keeping the secret requires increasingly drastic measures.
The casting helps to complement this framework. King is great as the inscrutable teenager with issues both genuine and fabricated, and Enos and Sarsgaard have crackling antagonistic energy, polar opposites forced to meet in the middle for the sake of the daughter they both love and feel equally guilty about neglecting while working on their own relationship and lives. It’s a relatable plight blown up to increasingly daft proportions, but the essential idea is good enough that I wish Sud did more with it.
For example, The Lie toys with the idea that Jay and Rebecca are rekindling their former passion and developing a new, rather unhealthy shared interest in unlawful cover-ups, but the film never really commits to this, and a later development disturbs them both to such an extent that they’re too frayed to have any relationship beyond the mandatory Kayla-comes-first one. Like the film itself, they enter a holding pattern, dutifully disposing of evidence and crafting red herrings for the authorities, but not really changing or developing in any meaningful way. This criticism applies to the entire film for all of the second act and most of the third until a divisive twist either makes the story’s point or totally undermines it, depending on where you stand.
I like how The Lie works as a critique of teenage self-involvement and the disinterested parenting that leads to it, and entitlement and the overbearing parenting that leads to that; there’s a better film in here somewhere, one that really tries to unpack its implications and interrogate its ideas. This one is a bit too perfunctory and self-conscious to achieve the effect it’s going for.
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