White Lie feels like a blend of a psychological thriller, a dramatic character study, and a crime movie. Yet the film, written and directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, is almost entirely composed of quiet moments. In lieu of noisy excitement, the filmmaking duo craft scenes where tension slithers in tacitly.
White Lie is a week in the life of Katie Arneson (Kacey Rohl), a college student who has made herself somewhat of a celebrity on campus. Katie is the face of a fundraising movement as she battles cancer and exists as a source of inspiration for her peers, who follow her on social media. Katie doesn’t actually have cancer, but she has been successful at fooling everyone into thinking she does, including her girlfriend, Jennifer (Amber Anderson). There’s a certain level of commitment to the ruse – Katie has to keep her head shaved and also keeps herself malnourished to give herself a more sickly appearance – but it’s quickly revealed to be a rather reckless endeavor.
Katie has been relying on a university scholarship for sick students in order to afford school, and is now being asked to provide proof of her illness via medical records. She apparently never considered that this would be an issue, and is thrown into a desperate scramble to forge the documents. Doing so ends up requiring a good amount of cash that Katie doesn’t have, and her lies begin to stack on top of each other until the entire scheme threatens to implode.
There are three main questions that the film keeps in the air: Why is Katie doing this? Will she be found out? What are the consequences if she does? Lev Lewis’ score features a squealing guitar and discordant drums that are initially a bit jarring, but quickly begin to reflect Katie’s fraying grip on her situation – and possibly her sanity. Katie is a difficult protagonist to follow; she makes dangerously reckless decisions, is incredibly manipulative (poor Jennifer is continuously gaslit to hell and back), and her deeper motives are unknown.
The best decision that White Lie makes is to never show Katie dropping the facade. There’s no scene where she’s alone and adjusts her posture or smiles to herself or something to that effect. Despite the numerous alarming examples of how she didn’t plan this lie out well enough, it’s obvious that she’s not giving it up anytime soon. “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” is a depressingly effective propaganda technique, and it may pertain to individuals as well. Perhaps Katie is so deep into this lie that it’s now simply become the truth for her. Or perhaps not – another fun part of this film is its ability to draw multiple interpretations thanks to its intentional ambiguity.
Kacey Rohl is phenomenal in the role. She propels every single scene forward with a desperation and cunning that makes Katie a fascinating and gripping character to watch. Any time it seems like she’s close to breaking, she manages to worm her way out of every situation that threatens to expose her, with either tears or a smile. The rest of the cast is solid as well, particularly Anderson, who imbues Jennifer with such caring warmth that it adds an entire layer of tragedy to the whole deception. The two together make for the most engaging scenes of the movie.
White Lie presents the idea of someone making way too many bad decisions way too quickly. Eventually, something’s gotta give. A good companion film would be the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems, where we watch Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) live an unlucky and wildly reckless couple of days and refuse to throw in the towel. White Lie isn’t nearly as manic or energetic as that film, but it offers a quieter and more contemplative approach to a similar affair.
White Lie will be released on VOD January 5, 2021. Review screener provided.
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Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas' White Lie is a tense story with strong performances about a girl faking a cancer diagnosis.
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