The Lie

Director: Veena Sud
Screenplay: Veena Sud (based on the film Wir Monster written by Marcus Seibert and Sebastian Ko)
Stars: Peter Sarsgaard (Jay), Mireille Enos (Rebecca), Joey King (Kayla), Cas Anvar (Sam), Patti Kim (Detective Kenji), Nicholas Lea (Detective Barnes), Devery Jacobs (Britney), Dani Kind (Trini), Alan Van Sprang (Greg)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2020
Country: Canada
The Lie
The Lie

Veena Sud’s The Lie, which is based on the German film Wir Monster (We Monsters, 2015), starts from an intriguing premise that is well sustained for most of the film before it inexplicably devolves into a preposterous and baffling conclusion that undercuts everything that was good in it. Let’s start with the premise: a variation on the good-people-doing-bad-things thriller, it dramatizes the desperate lengths to which parents will go to protect their child. In this case, the child is 15-year-old Kayla (Joey King), who inexplicably kills one of her friends by pushing her off a bridge into a freezing river. At the time they are with Kayla’s father, Jay (Peter Sarsgaard), a scruffy musician who is driving them to a dance camp. Jay is divorced from Kayla’s mom, Rebecca (Mireille Enos), a wealthy, straight-arrow attorney. Both parents are involved with other people, but their collective work to cover up Kayla’s crime starts drawing them back together.

There are, of course, numerous hiccups, and Jay and Rebecca turn out to be not particularly gifted in covering up crimes. The main problem with which they must constantly deal is Sam (Cas Anvar), the father of the girl Kayla killed. There are intimations that he is an abusive parent, but he is clearly determined to find his daughter and quickly sees that something is amiss in what Jay and Rebecca are telling him. It doesn’t help that he lives right down the street, so he is always a short walk away from their front door and tends to show up unannounced at the worst possible times. Jay and Rebecca are also dealing with two police investigators, Detective Kenji (Patti Kim) and Detective Barnes (Nicholas Lea), the former of whom Rebecca used to work with when she was with the district attorney’s office.

And then there is Kayla, who is at first terrified and panicked about what she has done (her emotional hysteria is one of the things that pushes Jay to cover up her actions and draw Rebecca into the plot), but soon settles into a kind of steady ennui that is deeply disturbing. At times she does things that suggests she somehow wants to get caught, even refusing to participate directly in the cover-up by calling Sam to say that she hasn’t seen his daughter, but she mostly seems blasé about what she has done and wants to go about life as if nothing has happened. This, of course, causes Jay and Rebecca to question who, exactly, they are protecting, but by that point they are in too deep to reverse course.

And then the film springs its big twist, which has a certain thematic resonance, but is so absolutely ludicrous and unbelievable that it punches a hole right through the film’s integrity and sends it rapidly sinking. It presents us with a parent’s worst nightmare—the revelation that one’s child is truly a monster—but it is done in a way that strains credulity and, simply put, doesn’t improve on the rest of the film’s evocative portrayal of parents trying to protect their disaffected teenager who is capable of murder. The original German title—We Monsters—is apt, although the ending suggests that the parents are less monsters than dupes.

Writer/director Veena Sud, whose previous feature, The Salton Sea (2015), was similarly about a seemingly good person covering up something terrible she might have done, has a firm grasp of tone and pacing, and one of the reasons the ending of The Lie thuds so badly is because so much of the film leading up to it was so sharp and engaging. Working with cinematographer Peter Wunstorf, with whom she previously collaborated on the Netflix series The Killing (2011–2014), she melds the film’s intense emotions with the bitterly frozen terrain on which they unfold. There is nothing particularly new here, but they work the genre material with conviction and authority. And, right up until the end, The Lie works as an incisive moral thriller.

Copyright © 2020 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (2)

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