“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” should be the tagline of Veena Sud‘s The Lie. Based on the 2015 German film Wir Monster, The Lie reveals the slow unravelling of a family after one horrific act leads to a price a family never thought they’d have to pay.
Presented by Amazon Studios and Jason Blum as part of their four-part anthology film series “Welcome to the Blumhouse”, The Lie takes place over a weekend that begins in the worst possible way. The child of divorced parents, 15-year-old Kayla (Joey King), is sullen and rude towards her mother Rebecca (Mierelle Enos), and disinterested in taking part in a weekend ballet retreat. Unsurprisingly, Kayla is dismissive of her father, Jay (Peter Sarsgaard)’s new girlfriend and would rather eat pancakes with both of her parents and asks them to treat her to them for breakfast, but Rebecca declines, and leaves to go to work while Jay and Kayla begin their trip to the camp.
On the way, they spot a girl waiting alone at a bus stop in the frigid cold, and Jay stops to offer her a ride. Coincidentally she turns out to be Britney (Devery Jacobs), Kayla’s best friend, who’s also on her way to the retreat. What should’ve been an ordinary trip takes a horrifying turn when the two girls walk into the forest after Britney requests a bathroom break. Going to look for them, Jay hears a scream, and finds Kayla siting on the railing of a bridge. She’s shaken and admits that she pushed Britney in to the freezing river below. Jay immediately becomes frenzied and briefly looks for the missing girl, but he gives up and, instead of calling for help, decides to hide what his daughter has done and takes her back home.
Rebecca arrives home to find her daughter in shock and Jay distraught, which she too becomes once she learns what’s happened. After being brow-beaten and berated by Jay, Rebecca reluctantly agrees to take part in the cover-up, and thus this family torn apart by divorce comes together to hide the fact the daughter is a murderer.
As parents Jay and Rebecca want to believe that what they’re doing is the right thing because they’re supposed to protect their child, but they fail to realize that by building this web of deceit they’re harming Kayla. They’re failing to teach their daughter what accountability and consequences are, and that the lives of others have value. They’re also failing to empathize with Britney’s father (Cas Anvar), who comes to them worried about his child when he learns she never arrived at the retreat.
Using her connections with the police department, Rebecca tries to implicate Britney’s father in her murder, and the situation continues to escalate. From the moment he realizes what Kayla has done, Jay refuses to acknowledge that she intentionally harmed Britney. His immediate denial makes her actions as much about him as her. He doesn’t want to admit that he could be responsible for the person his child has become. He’s adamant that Kayla’s life be unaffected, which is impossible. His aggressive attitude towards Rebecca is unpleasant to watch, and at first you feel sympathy for the pressure she’s under, but bit-by-bit that sympathy ebbs away as she becomes increasingly callous and calculating in devising ways to cover up and erase the evidence.
Both Sarsgaard and Enos give great performances as desperate parents trying to hold on both to the fraying edges of a family being torn further apart, and to their sanity as their characters try to convince themselves and each other that what they’re doing is right. As Kayla, King does a fine job playing a character who cycles through the tumultuous emotional impact of her world slowly crumbling around her.
Parents are supposed to love, care for, and guide their children so they become better people than they are. Each film in the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series is connected by a central theme built on the question of how far parents would go to protect their child. To what lengths will they go against their own morality and ethics to do what they feel they have to? In The Lie, we see Jay and Rebecca making horrible decisions in a woefully misguided attempt at protecting Kayla, all of which lead to them causing more harm than good to her and the family.
As the title states, everything begins when the first lie is told, but it’s what happens afterward to maintain the lie that makes the story equal parts compelling and frustrating. With the creation of this one lie, all three of them have to create more and more to cover, each one becoming more absurd than the other. Halfway through the film you’re anxious to see how it all ends because you can’t believe these two adults could make the situation any worse, and yet, they do. It’s these lies and actions that make the film worth watching. Sud does a great job of holding the plot just on the edge of falling into the realm of the ridiculous, by keeping the tension high until a shocking climax you don’t want to believe because it makes everything that precedes it even more horrific.
The Lie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.