October 13, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Veena Sud
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the suspenseful drama “The Lie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A divorced couple go to extreme lengths to cover up a crime committed by their troubled teenage daughter.
Culture Audience: “The Lie” will primarily appeal to people who are interested in movies that have very Lifetime TV type of concepts but with higher budgets and a higher caliber of actors.
When parents cover up a crime that their child committed, who’s worse? The child or the parents? These are questions that the dramatic thriller “The Lie” wants viewers to think about and possibly change their minds about the answer several times during the course of the movie. Unfortunately, “The Lie” (written and directed by Veena Sud) is so caught up with trying to fool viewers with twists and turns in the story (including an ending that people are going to either love or hate) that the movie could be considered one big lie if viewers are expecting a coherent plot. Above-average acting from the lead actors in the cast can’t quite save this convoluted mess of a movie.
“The Lie” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. “The Lie” definitely has a strong female point of view, since two of the three main characters are female: troubled 15-year-old Kayla (played by Joey King) and her mother Rebecca (played by Mireille Enos), a former homicide cop who’s now a corporate executive for an unnamed company. (Sud and Enos used to work together on the crime drama series “The Killing.”)
The other main character in “The Lie” is Kayla’s rock singer/musician father Jay (played by Peter Sarsgaard), who’s been divorced from Rebecca for about five or six years. Jay and Rebecca have moved on to new love partners. Jay is dating his bandmate Trini (played by Dani Kind), while Rebecca’s boyfriend Greg (Alan Van Sprang) is planning to move in with Rebecca and Kayla. Jay doesn’t know it yet though, and Rebecca wants to postpone telling him this big news.
It’s established early on in the movie that Rebecca has primary custody of Kayla because she’s the more reliable parent with the steadier income. The income disparity is obvious, since Rebecca and Kayla live in a spacious, upper-middle-class home, while Jay lives in a cramped apartment. Jay isn’t a complete deadbeat dad, but there’s tension between Jay and Rebecca because he’s been an irresponsible, inattentive parent in the past (a lot of it has to do with him being a musician), so Rebecca often has a hard time trusting him. She also thinks that Jay can be too lenient with Kayla, maybe out of guilt for being a sometimes-absentee father.
Kayla’s relationship with Jay is less resentful than how Rebecca feels about him, but there’s still some tension between Kayla and Jay because Kayla wishes that her father paid more attention to her. Jay is the type of musician who’s still trying to make it big. He’s not completely broke, but he’s not at a level where he has a comfortably steady income. He’s the lead singer of an indie rock band that releases its own music and doesn’t get played on the radio, but is able to make money by playing nightclubs. Viewers of “The Lie” will get the impression that he’s been at this level for his entire career.
On the fateful winter day that the lives of Kayla, Rebecca and Jay change forever, Jay is driving Kayla to a ballet retreat that she doesn’t really want to go to but is being pressured to attend by Rebecca. There’s a lot of ice and snow outside, and when Kayla sees a teenage friend named Britney (played by Devery Jacobs) standing alone at a bus stop, Kayla asks Jay to pull over so they can talk to Britney, who’s going to the same ballet retreat.
Britney (who sometimes goes by the name Brit) says that she’s taking the bus because her father backed out on his promise to drive her to the retreat, so Kayla asks Jay if they can give Britney a ride to the retreat. Britney mentions that she and her divorced father haven’t been getting along lately, and that’s probably why he bailed out of driving her to the retreat. It’s later revealed in the movie that Britney moved to the area with her father Sam about two or three months ago. Britney’s mother abandoned Britney and Sam years ago.
As Kayla and Britney sit in the back of the car and make small talk, Kayla notices that Britney has a bruise on her chin. When she asks Britney about it, Britney avoids answering the question and jokingly tries to make Kayla feel intrusive by calling Kayla a “stalker.” The drive goes by fairly uneventfully on a deserted road near the woods until Britney and Kayla ask Jay to stop the car so they can go in the woods and relieve themselves. Jay obliges their request, but he’s reluctant because it’s cold outside and he’s wary about the two girls being in an isolated wooded area. Jay doesn’t go with them into the woods, out of respect for their teenage privacy.
After a reasonable period of time has passed, the girls still haven’t come back to the car, so Jay goes into the woods to find out what’s going on. To his horror, he sees Kayla, who looks like she’s in a state of shock, on a small bridge overlooking icy and treacherous water. Britney is nowhere in sight. When Jay frantically asks where Britney is, Kayla says that they were “joking around,” and Britney fell off of the bridge into the water.
A few minutes later, after Jay tries desperately to find Britney in the water, Kayla changes her story and makes a darker confession to Jay: She says that she and Britney actually had an argument, and Kayla deliberately pushed Britney off of the bridge. Kayla and Jay decide to stop looking for Britney, who is presumed to be dead. Kayla, who’s asthmatic, also seems to be having an asthma attack, so Jay decides that they’re going to leave the scene of the crime and pretend that they never saw Britney that day.
Kayla is too distressed to go to the ballet retreat, so Jay also decides that he will just take her back home and they will pretend that she was sick and use that as an excuse for why she didn’t show up for the ballet retreat. Jay also decides that he and Kayla will fabricate an alibi for the time that they were on the road, by saying that during that time, she was with Jay at his place before he drove her back to the house where Kayla lives with Rebecca.
While Kayla and Jay are near the parked car, a truck passes by, and Kayla and Jay duck down quickly, so they won’t be seen. It’s a possible problem with their fake alibi if anyone in the truck remembers seeing Jay’s car on the road at that specific time. There are other things that happen later in the story that could unravel and expose the lie.
But before that happens, Kayla and a panicked Jay go to Rebecca’s office. Rebecca is furious to see that Kayla is not at the ballet retreat. But Jay pulls Rebecca aside and tells her that she needs to go back to her house. He will bring Kayla there and explain everything. When Rebecca arrives at the house and finds out what happened, she is shocked, but she has a very different idea on how they should handle the situation.
Rebecca wants to go immediately to the police and report what happened, as well as try to see if a search team can look for Britney. Jay insists that it’s a bad idea because Britney is probably dead already, and he will get in trouble for not going to the police sooner. It’s also why Jay rejects Rebecca’s suggestion that they tell police that it was an accident: If it were an accident, Jay would’ve called 911 for help in trying to rescue Britney from the water.
Jay thinks the best thing to do is to stick to the lie and get a good lawyer for Kayla. After much arguing back and forth, Rebecca agrees to Jay’s idea to tell the lie to cover up for Kayla. They agree to craft an airtight alibi for Kayla and stick to the story no matter what.
And what does Kayla think about what’s going on? At first, she seems to feel guilty about what happened and wants to go to the police. But then, when she sees that her parents have joined forces to protect her, she seems to find comfort in that situation, and Kayla lets her parents handle everything. They coach Kayla on what to say when the police inevitably start questioning Kayla, who seems to be one of Britney’s closest friends.
But the morning after the incident, Kayla is oddly calm and acts like nothing really happened. She exhibits this nonchalant behavior several times throughout the movie. But then other times, she loses control of her emotions, such as she when she has a public meltdown outside the house and her father has to restrain her.
Kayla’s meltdown in the front yard is loud enough for neighbors to see and hear, but there are conveniently no neighbors who report suspicious activity coming from Kayla’s home. And the police certainly don’t find out about it, because the meltdown is written in this movie for melodrama purposes only.
Later in the story, Kayla reveals to her father Jay that she’s been cutting herself. “It helps take away the pain,” Kayla tells Jay, as she shows him the cutting scars on her wrist. “No one likes me at school,” she adds.
Jay seems disturbed by finding out that Kayla is a cutter. And he’s in for more of a shock when he finds out that Kayla has been cutting herself for a few years, and Rebecca has known about it too. Rebecca gives Jay a weary excuse that she tried to get Kayla help for this self-harm problem, but nothing worked.
If it isn’t obvious enough, Kayla is deeply troubled. But is she a sociopath? Is she bipolar? The movie plays guessing games with viewers over what Kayla’s state of mind really is. Her parents know that something is very wrong with her, but they’re more concerned with covering up the crime that she confessed to rather than trying to get her professional help for her mental problems.
Britney’s father Sam (played by Cas Anvar) eventually comes over to Rebecca’s house to see if he can talk to Kayla about where she thinks Britney might be. It isn’t the first time that Britney has disappeared for a few days without telling anyone, so Sam isn’t too worried when he first goes over to the house to talk to Kayla. Rebecca stalls Sam, with the excuse that Kayla has been sick. Rebecca plays the part of a concerned parent by giving Sam her personal cell phone number so that he can contact Rebecca, but it’s really Rebecca’s way of finding out what Sam is going to do about Britney’s disappearance.
Rebecca and Jay do everything possible to prevent Kayla from talking to Sam and other people, by lying and saying that Kayla is too sick to talk to anyone. Rebecca and Kayla also avoid returning Sam’s messages. As Britney’s disappearance stretches into more than 48 hours, Sam gets more frantic and suspicious that Kayla and her parents might be hiding something.
Rebecca and Jay end up doing some despicable and extreme things to throw any suspicion off of Kayla and possibly put the blame on someone else. Rebecca gets in touch with Detective Kenji Takada (played by Patti Kim), a former colleague at the police department, and manipulates her into thinking that someone else could be involved with Britney’s disappearance. Kenji just happens to be part of the investigation with her cop partner Detective Rodney Barnes (played by Nicholas Lea), who shows more than a hint of racism when he suspiciously asks Britney’s father Sam (who’s Pakistani American) what his ethnicity is.
One of the big flaws in the screenplay is in all the illogical decisions made by Rebecca and Jay. By keeping Kayla isolated at home and preventing her from continuing her routine school activities, it actually makes Kayla look even more guilty and suspicious. At one point, Jay and Rebecca tell Sam that Kayla is at a doctor’s appointment, but since that’s a lie, there are no medical records to back it up in case Sam tells the police this information. And Jay and Rebecca’s attempts to prevent Sam from talking to Kayla just makes it look like Kayla has something to hide. Sam senses it too.
And about that lawyer that Jay said should be hired to help Kayla. It’s one of the reasons why Rebecca agreed to go along with Jay’s idea to cover up for Kayla. However, it’s not a spoiler to say that a lawyer is never hired for Kayla, although Jay and Rebecca are going to need attorneys, based on all the illegal things that Rebecca and Jay do to cover up for Kayla and all of their lies. The non-existent lawyer is one of many ways that “The Lie” dangles something in front of viewers and then just leaves it hanging.
And the ending of the movie is basically undermined by the fact that earlier in the film, the police investigating Britney’s disappearance found some important email between two people involved in the case. In order for the ending of the movie to be plausible, viewers would have to believe that the police overlooked other email and cell phone records from the same two people. And that investigator oversight doesn’t seem logical or plausible, considering the email between those two people that was already discovered by the police. Even if text and email messages are deleted, they can still be retrieved on hard drives through computer forensics that are available to police investigators.
Although the screenplay is problematic, “The Lie” does have very good acting from King, Enos and Sarsgaard, who do the best they can with the flawed script that they’ve been given. There are plenty of suspenseful moments, but too often they are followed by another ludicrous and extreme act by one of the loathsome main characters.
And what makes the cover-up worse in this story is that Rebecca is a former cop who makes some dumb decisions that no self-respecting person with police training would make. Main characters in a suspense thriller don’t have to be likable heroes, but they should at least be believable. And because the movie has too many characters who do too many incredibly stupid things, “The Lie” lacks credibility as a suspense thriller.
Prime Video premiered “The Lie” on October 6, 2020.