‘The Lie’ : A Frosty Tale of a Frightful Girl ☆☆

Writer/director Veena Sud’s “The Lie” delivers a frosty tale about a frightfully bad girl, a petulant teen who is annoying and not nearly endearing enough for us to care. She’s also not hateful enough that one derives any pleasure at the thought of her being punished. As both writer and director Sud has failed to ensnare the viewer with an emotional bait to lure us into investing in this world.

The film begins with a montage of childhood scenes that take us from baby Kayla to petulant teen Kayla. From these sunlit scenes, we are transported to the present day that is characterized by the stark, unforgiving wintry light outside and artificial bluish light inside. Kayla (Joey King) is the only child of divorced Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) and Rebecca (Mireille Enos).

Her father is driving her on a picture-perfect deserted winter road (Route 275) to dance camp when Kayla spies a friend, Brittany (Devery Jacobs), waiting at a bus stop. Kayla opens the door before her father had stopped driving. Jay reluctantly gives the young teen a ride.

Brittany’s father, Sam Afrani (Cas Anvar), has failed her. They had an argument; somehow Brittany ended up with a bruise on her face. Both girls are in the back and Brittany declares she has to pee and is nearly ready to pee on the seat. Forced to stop, he waits as the two girls walk into the woods and on to the Hopewell Bridge. Hearing his daughter scream, Jay runs through the woods toward his daughter who is alone. Where is Brittany?

Eventually, Kayla confesses that Brittany is gone and that she pushed her because Brittany was being bitch. Even for a fair weather gal, some of what happens here makes no sense at all. Would you run around in a fast moving river–a river swift enough to carry the body of a substantial teen down far out of sight in less than 10 minutes? The shores are prettily decorated with ice and snow and the term freezing has more meaning there than in sunny Los Angeles.

Jay doesn’t complain about the cold and he remains neat and well-dressed despite the increasingly desperate situation. Jay takes Kayla back to Rebecca’s office, who is displeased at Jay’s continued indulgence of their daughter: He refuses her nothing. That supposedly explains the machinations of their desperate coverup.

Jay is a musician who lives in the downtown area. Rebecca is an attorney who used to work homicide. She knows the two detectives, Rodney Barnes (Nicholas Lea) and Kenji Tagata (Patti Kim) and the consequences of their desperate measures to cover up for their daughter.

“I’m a terrible person,” Kayla declares. Her mother tells her she’s not. These are terrible people, but the greater failure here is that they are not terribly interesting. This is not “Fargo” where we observe the ticks of the law enforcement, are fascinated with the rhythms of the regional accents, and are moved by the moral dilemmas faced by each of the characters. While “Fargo” was set in North Dakota and Minnesota, “The Lie,” is set in Canada and shot in the Toronto area. Sud’s dialogue doesn’t give us a sense of place or time. There’s a slight cheat that will mislead viewers; you’ll feel betrayed by the ending.

Sud previously wrote for the CBS police procedural “Cold Case” (2003-2010) which was about a fictional Philadelphia Police Department division. She’s currently the writer/director of “The Stranger,” a web television series on Quibi about a rideshare driver with a mysterious passenger who claims to be a murderer. In 2018, Sud created and served as executive producer for the award-winning Netflix crime drama, “Seven Seconds.” Crime is definitely Sud’s genre, but “The Lie,” is not her best work. There is not a single person that I liked or rooted for. There’s nothing about the dialogue that intrigued me. These characters are so sparsely written and inhabited, they are easily forgotten and none are likable enough that one wishes to transport them to a different and better film. Maybe teenagers stuck in a disaffected, anti-social, parent-hating phase may appreciate this, but defrosting a refrigerator is more interesting and likely to be more horrific.

“The Lie” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13, 2018. The film joins three other movies from Blumhouse Productions on Amazon Prime Video this month and was released at on 6 October 2020 on Amazon Prime along with “Black Box.”

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