Review: ‘The Lie’ (2020), starring Joey King, Peter Sarsgaard and Mireille Enos

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Peter Sarsgaard and Joey King in “The Lie” (Photo by Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios)

“The Lie” (2020)

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.

Mireille Enos and Peter Sarsgaard in “The Lie” (Photo by Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios)

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.

Review: ‘The Stranger’ (Quibi), starring Maika Monroe, Dane DeHaan and Avan Jogia

April 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dane DeHaan and Maika Monroe in “The Stranger” (Photo courtesy of Quibi)

“The Stranger”

Directed by Veena Sud

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the crime drama “The Stranger” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who’s a rideshare driver picks up a very dangerous passenger who stalks her and tries to frame her for murder.

Culture Audience: “The Stranger” will appeal primarily to people who like convoluted crime dramas and don’t expect the story to be very believable.

Maika Monroe and Avan Jogia in “The Stranger” (Photo courtesy of Quibi)

The streaming service Quibi (which launched on April 6, 2020) has set itself apart from its competitors by offering only original content, and each piece of content is 10 minutes or less. Therefore, content that Quibi has labeled a “movie” actually seems more like a limited series, since Quibi will only make the “movie” available in “chapters” that look like episodes.

One of the original movies that Quibi debuted on April 13, 2020,  is “The Stranger,” a thriller about a Los Angeles female rideshare driver being stalked by a mysterious young man who seems intent on framing her for murders that are being committed in the city. Unfortunately for Quibi’s “The Stranger,” it arrives just after the January 2020 premiere of Netflix’s original series “The Stranger,” which is about a stranger who arrives in a suburb and starts exposing scandalous secrets about the residents. It’s one of the reasons why entertainment creators need to come up with more original titles.

Quibi’s “The Stranger” (written and directed by Veena Sud) takes place in a 12-hour period (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) in the life of a young woman named Clare Johnson (played by Maika Monroe), who works as a rideshare driver for a company called Orbit. One evening, Clare picks up a young male passenger named Charlie E. (played by Dane DeHaan) at a Hollywood Hills mansion for a trip to the airport.

Charlie has only a duffel bag as his luggage, and he immediately asks if he can sit in the front of the car with Clare. Sensing her hesitation, Charlie offers to sit in the back if it would make her more comfortable. Not wanting to alienate this presumably wealthy passenger, Clare says in a friendly manner that it’s no problem for Charlie to sit in the front.

While they’re driving to the airport, Charlie finds out that Clare is so new to Los Angeles that she’s surprised that their trip to the airport will take about 45 minutes. She tells Charlie that she recently moved to L.A. from Kansas to become a screenwriter. In the meantime, Clare has become an Orbit driver to pay the bills.

Charlie quickly becomes flirtatious with Clare. When he sees that she has some mustard on the side of her mouth, he gently wipes some of it off. Clare sheepishly admits that the mustard is from a veggie burger that she had eaten because she didn’t have time for a full dinner. Charlie then says that he doesn’t feel like going to the airport after all, and he would rather have dinner with her instead.

He starts to insist that they have dinner together. Clare then mentions the mansion where Charlie came from as a way to deflect his advances, and he tells her nonchalantly that he doesn’t live there. When she asks him if his parents live there, he tells her no.

The conversation takes a very dark turn when Charlie tells her with an evil smirk that he actually doesn’t know the house owners because he randomly went to house and killed the entire family (a mother, a father and their daughters) who lived there, by shooting and stabbing them. He then shows her the knife that he says he used for the stabbings.

A terrified Clare is now a hostage to this demented person as the car heads down the hills. Because Charlie knows that Clare is an aspiring screenwriter, he demands that Clare tell him a story while she’s driving, and he says he’ll kill her if he doesn’t like the story. Rather than remain a hostage, Clare decides to crash her car in a nearby signpost. Charlie is thrown out of the car by the impact, and Clare speeds off to get help.

Clare calls 911, describes what happened, and she tells the operator that she’s frightened that this deranged passenger will still come after her. Clare stops at a parking lot of a convenience store, because the 911 operator tells her that police officers will meet her there. When the two police officers arrive, they tell her that the occupants of the mansion are two senior citizens who are alive and well, that no one reported any disturbances in the area, and that no one fitting Charlie’s description was seen in the area.

Clare, who is shocked by this information, tells the cops that Charlie mentioned having a gun, so she asks them to check the duffel bag that he left in the back of her car. But when the officers inspect the back of the car, they see the duffel bag (which doesn’t have a gun) and a life-sized female blow-up sex doll outside the duffel bag.

That’s the first sign that “The Stranger” is going to have some ridiculous twists. Clare and Charlie were in the front seat the entire time that they were in the car together. How did the doll get outside the duffel bag in the back seat? How did the blow-up doll get inflated? None of that is ever explained in “The Stranger.”

Clare insists that she’s telling the truth and offers to show the cops the text messages that she exchanged with Charlie before she picked him up, as well as the reservation that he made. But when she goes to look for that information on her phone, she finds that every trace of Charlie has mysteriously disappeared from her phone. It never occurs to Clare to have Orbit confirm the record of the reservation and Charlie’s Orbit account. It’s one of many obvious plot holes that “The Stranger” has.

The two police officers who take Clare’s report are very irritated with her because they think she’s playing some kind of prank. They tell Clare that they’re not going to charge her with filing a false police report, but warn her that if they catch her doing anything else that’s illegal, she will be arrested.

A confused and now angry Clare starts to throw away the blow-up doll and the duffel bag (wait, isn’t that evidence?) in a garbage dump at the side of the convenience store. But then, a store employee rushes out and tries to stop Clare.

The employee’s name is Jay, nicknamed JJ (played by Avan Jogia), and he nervously tells Clare that she can’t throw away anything weird there because his boss frequently checks the garbage dump to look for anything suspicious that could get the convenience store in trouble. (Really? Who does that?) Clare explains that she’s had a rough night, so JJ takes pity on her and lets her throw away the blow-up doll and the duffel bag.

But Clare’s night is about to get worse. When she gets home to her apartment, she calls Orbit to report what happened to her and finds out that her account has been suspended, pending an investigation into a customer complaint that Clare pulled a knife on the customer. Clare is furious and tells the person she’s speaking to on the phone that the customer is lying and that he was the one who pulled the knife on her.

Again, it never occurs to Claire to find out the real identity of the customer who filed the complaint, since Orbit has the record of the reservation and the customer’s contact info. But with no police report to back her up, it’s a “he said/she said” situation, and Clare is now out of a job at Orbit.

Clare feeds her small terrier dog Pebbles, who starts to growl, as if someone else is in the apartment. Sure enough, it’s Charlie, who chases a terrified Clare with an apparent intent to kill her. Clare picks up Pebbles, races out of the apartment with the dog, and Clare barely manages to escape in the elevator before the elevator door closes so that Charlie can’t get to her.

After narrowly escaping from Charlie, Clare gets in her car and drives to a local church. Clare calls her mother in the church bathroom and tells her everything that’s happened. Her mother pauses and sounds skeptical. That’s when it’s revealed that Clare has a history of fabricating stories and false accusations. Her mother wonders if Clare is having another one of these episodes.

Is Charlie real or is this all a figment of Clare’s imagination? That answer is eventually revealed, but the rest “The Stranger” is a cat-and-mouse chase between Charlie and Clare. While Clare is alone in the church’s ladies room, someone has plunged a bloody knife into the restroom’s front door.

Like an idiot, Clare takes the knife, only to find out that a street vendor outside the church has just been stabbed to death. She walks out with the knife, in full view of several witnesses, who (not surprisingly) think that Clare is the one who committed the murder. Clare panics and speeds off in her car.

Where does she go next? To the convenience store to get JJ’s help. She tells him what’s been happening to her and that Charlie (whoever he is) has decided to stalk her and ruin her life. JJ is skeptical until something something weird happens while they’re at the store: The security cameras at the store are suddenly showing the inside of JJ’s home.

In order to believe what’s going on in “The Stranger,” you’d have to believe that Charlie is able to predict Clare’s every move and he’s been able to elude the untold number of security cameras that are in a  big city like Los Angeles. And the whole story is based on the shaky, far-fetched premise that a rideshare passenger like Charlie is untraceable, when rideshare companies require identity verification of the passengers making reservations.

There’s also a ludicrous scene where JJ and Clare are driving in JJ’s car somewhere at night. JJ gets stopped by a police officer, the police officer ends up dead, and JJ and Clare come up with a scatter-brained idea to run off to Mexico out of fear of being blamed for the cop’s death. JJ and Clare decide to take a train to El Paso, Texas, because the train will then head to Mexico.

Bizarrely, JJ and Clare are the only passengers on the train, until Charlie shows up and chases them on this empty train and shoots at them. JJ and Clare run away and jump onto the train tracks to escape. Is this a delusional hallucination or is this supposed to be real? All is explained at the end of “The Stranger,” but it’s a far-fetched and poorly conceived explanation.

During the frantic quest “to get to the truth,” Clare holds on to Pebbles like Dorothy holds on to Toto in “The Wizard of Oz.” But “The Stranger” is so badly edited that there are times, such as during a chase scene in the train tunnel, when the dog is nowhere in sight (because Clare dropped the dog somewhere miles away), but then a later scene shows Clare holding the dog again when she wouldn’t have had time to retrieve the dog.

There’s nothing special about any of the acting in “The Stranger.” DeHaan’s Charlie character is a very two-dimensional villain, while Monroe is stuck playing a character who makes so many dumb decisions that it’s hard to feel much sympathy for Clare. Jovia makes the most out of playing JJ, who is the most well-rounded character (he also has the funniest lines), but there’s a plot development involving JJ that is so moronic that it’s a big sign of how the rest of the story goes downhill.

“The Stranger” had an interesting, although not entirely original, concept that is ruined by substandard screenwriting and sloppy editing. It’s a letdown, considering that “The Stranger” writer/director Sud has done better work before. (She was a writer/executive producer for the crime-drama TV series “The Killing” and “Cold Case.”)

How many times have there been mystery thrillers where the plot is about a murder suspect who claims to be innocent? How many crime dramas have there been about a woman being mercilessly stalked? (A “stalker drama” describes about half of all Lifetime movies.) You can add Quibi’s “The Stranger” to the list of these unoriginal ideas, but file this show under the category of “disappointing” and “forgettable.”

Quibi premiered the first three chapters of the 13-chapter “The Stranger” on April 13, 2020.

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