'The Lie' Review: Joey King enthralls as a manic-depressive teen in a film that is both tragic and a thriller
Director and writer Veena Sud brings her experience from ‘The Killing’ and creates a very Nordic noir experience for viewers. And like any good Nordic noir story, this dark thriller, too, is full of dread and bleakness
Spoilers for ‘The Lie’
‘The Lie’, the part of the first couple of feature releases from the Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Television anthology special, 'Welcome to Blumhouse', has been billed as a psychological thriller. But it is so much more than that. It is, at its very essence, a tragedy. And in both terms, it is a spectacular film.
Director and writer Veena Sud brings her experience from ‘The Killing’ and creates a very Nordic noir experience for viewers with ‘The Lie’. And like any good Nordic noir story, this dark thriller, too, is full of dread and bleakness, the horrors of human capabilities and ultimately, the tragedy of broken people. And, of course, a snowy expanse that only makes all of the above more unsettling.
The story follows Kayla (Joey King), a teenager from a broken upper-class home, her father Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) and her mother Rebecca (Mireille Enos). When Jay is on his way taking Kayla for a ballet camp of sorts, the two run into her friend Brittany (Devery Jacobs) on the way. They give her a lift. While on the way, Brittany asks them to stop the car because she has to relieve herself. So, in the middle of a desolate snowy highway, Kayla and Brittany head out into the woods. When they seem to be taking too long, Jay follows them only to find a distraught Kayla sitting at the edge of a bridge, looking at the water. She says that she pushed Brittany into the icy depths of the river below because she was being bad to her.
They try, but can’t find her body. Ultimately, they give up and return home, where Jay and Rebecca try to figure out how to protect their daughter from what would surely be considered second-degree manslaughter at the very least. Their troubles are only increased manifold when Brittany’s father Sam (Cas Anvar) arrives at their doorsteps to see why the school called to tell him that neither his daughter nor Kayla, had made it to the camp.
Seems like a simple story, right? It is and it isn’t. After a bit, Sam suspects something is wrong, despite Rebecca telling him that Kayla had never even left for the camp. He gets aggressive and tries to question Kayla, only to have Jay and Rebecca stop him. As protective parents in a moment of panic, they come up with the worst possible solution -- frame Sam as an abusive parent and report Kayla missing, hoping that cops would add two and two.
All the while, Kayla seems to be going through a series of mood swings. She steers between manic and depressive, as she continues to take comfort in her divorced parents uniting to protect her. But she only underestimates just how much they are willing to risk for this. When the police see obvious flaws in the narrative they’ve created for Sam, their suspicion falls to Jay and Rebecca. Sam, in the meantime, has only gotten more suspicious of what’s happening. In a desperate bid, they go to Sam’s place in the dead of the night to frame him by planting Kayla’s phone in his backyard. When Sam catches Rebecca waiting outside, he accosts her. Jay comes and attacks him and they leave. But on a whim, Rebecca turns back and runs him over, and they leave him to die -- an end to the trauma haunting their family.
As they wash the blood away from the car in their garage, Brittany arrives in the flesh to their utter shock. It turns out that she had convinced Kayla to lie so that she could go see her boyfriend for a couple of days and Kayla stuck with the lie because the trauma, in her head, brought her broken family together. The film ends with the horrified parents hugging their daughter as distant police sirens can be heard in the distance.
The innate tragedy of the ‘The Lie’ is only made better with this final twist -- one that you never see coming. And that, in every way, is the hallmark of a good thriller. The film, throughout its first and second acts, feels straightforward. The final act sees the situation escalate. But it is in the final moments that it goes for the kill and shocks viewers, who would by then try to imagine convoluted theories for what the missing piece in this puzzle is. The fact that the piece has been hinted at the very beginning of the film in the form of a montage of home videos of the then-happy family only makes the ending painful.
That Kayla’s unhappiness with her parents' divorce and an impromptu plan to bring them together would end in such a catastrophic manner could have never been conceived in her young mind. Even when she is apologizing to her parents for lying in the very last scene, she has no idea of the extent her divorced parents have gone to, to make sure she was protected. And the consequences of those actions.
Sud’s writing and direction are remarkable and are only matched by the cast’s performance. Sarsgaard’s stoic father, Enos’s overprotective mother, and King’s desperate teenager together make for a frightfully good combination in this tragic tale. There is much to love about ‘The Lie’. It is without a doubt one of the better thrillers (or films) we have seen this year.
‘The Lie’ is available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.