During the month of October Blumhouse Productions, one of the leading content providers in mainstream horror cinema, has partnered with Amazon Studios to release several horror and thriller films originally slated for mainstream release but sidelined due to COVID-19. One such film is “The Lie”, a psychological thriller with horror elements based on the 2015 German film “We Monsters” that looks at a very interesting scenario: what would you do if your child knowingly killed someone? Would you cover it up? Would you make them confess? How would you handle it? It’s a difficult and complicated question that promised compelling storytelling and insightful examination of a nightmare scenario…but fails to deliver in the long run despite being a well acted feature with plenty of subtext that goes underutilized.
“The Lie” stars Joey King as Kayla who pushes her friend Brittany (Devery Jacobs) off of a bridge leading to her alleged death. When her separated parents Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) and Rebecca (Mireille Enos) discover her crime, they find themselves at a crossroads but ultimately decide to help their daughter stay out of trouble and cover for her. Put off by Kayla’s seemingly careless reaction to her own actions and desperate to keep her safe, the parents dig themselves into even deeper holes as their lies stack up causing them to take drastic measures to prevent the truth from coming to light. The very idea of this movie was fascinating. It’s one of the worst realities you could imagine, your child being an admitted killer. What would you do? Just ask yourself that question, what would you actually do? You can’t fathom it, right? This movie had a chance to answer that question, or at least explore some possibilities of how it could play out. It does provide some intriguing insight into the parents’ struggles to do what they believe is right for their child even if it compromises their humanity, but there’s a certain lack of commitment and dedication to the craft that leaves the experience feeling like a missed opportunity.
First, I have to give credit to the performers. While it’s not her best work, Joey King continues her growth as somewhat of a modern scream queen but this time she’s the criminal instead of a victim. She’s overshadowed however by her on-screen parents, Mireille Enos and Peter Sarsgaard, who are the best thing in this movie portraying a conflicted separated couple who are struggling with their daughter’s heinous crime. These two own the show, which is fitting because it’s really their horror story we’re experiencing, as their mental states and desperation evolve over the course of the movie almost as if they are going through the stages of grief until they take things too far and compromise their morals beyond repair for the sake of their daughter. The scariest part of this pseudo-horror thriller is experiencing the dread these two have to manage and the weight of not only their daughter’s choice but also their own choices.
Somewhere beneath it all is a daring narrative about the disconnect of families in the modern age as well as the numbing of social awareness and potential sociopathy that comes with being a teenager in the modern world, but a lot of this is lost in a story that feels like it has a lot to say but never really comes together. You see, while the emotional journey of the parents works well to immerse viewers in their plight, that’s about all this movie offers in terms of genuinely engaging content. It’s much more thriller than horror providing few scares beyond its concept and the deeper elements of the story are drowned by slow pacing, generic dialogue and an overall inspired but underwhelming screenplay. Not to mention there is a twist ending to the film that I called almost from the very beginning which to the perceptive viewer can water down the rest of the film and change the perspective of what we’re supposed to be experiencing shifting it from a parent’s nightmare to an unfortunate situation that got out of hand in all the wrong ways. “The Lie” makes many promises but rarely delivers creating a hollow shell out of an otherwise promising idea.
“The Lie” isn’t unwatchable. It has its moments and the struggle of two parents trying to do right by their seemingly sociopathic child is both topical and relatable for modern times as well as pretty much any parent from any generation. The very idea of how one would react to such a revelation strikes fear into the heart. But beyond the exceptional acting by the adult leads there’s just not enough here to recommend it as an effective thriller. All the pieces are there and there’s even some insightful commentary buried underneath but there’s a lack of commitment and soul that results in an experience where the parts are often greater than the sum. It’s predictable, slow, and could have used a more determined writer and director at the helm, but it also provides insight into its core characters’ struggles the way a good thriller should. So while it’s not a very good movie, it’s one worth checking out to experience those small parts that did work in the end.