White Lie review: A tense nail-biter
Luke Channell | On 31, Jul 2020
Director: Yonah Lewis, Calvin Thomas
Cast: Kacey Rohl, Amber Anderson, Martin Donovan
Watch White Lie online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
In the very first shot of White Lie, the film’s central deception is plainly unveiled, as we witness protagonist Katie’s (Kacey Rohl) meticulous head-shaving routine. Katie is faking a cancer diagnosis and she keeps up the ruse by popping placebos, starving herself and shaving her head to appear like a chemotherapy patient. Canadian writer-director duo Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas’ fourth feature together is a nervy, tightly paced psychological study of a complex antihero.
Katie is a university dance student whose fictional illness has helped her procure a low-level of fame as well as a supportive group of friends, favourable academic treatment and even a loving girlfriend. In addition, she’s the beneficiary of a number of fundraisers, including her #FightforKatie campaign, which have raised more than $24,000 altogether. A hefty bursary is also within Katie’s grasp, but is dependent on her providing medical records that prove the validity of her condition.
Desperate to hold on to the fake identity she has so carefully constructed, Katie calls upon corrupt doctors to falsify her medical records and leaches money from her unsuspecting girlfriend Jennifer (Amber Anderson) to pay them off. But the truth threatens to emerge when her estranged father Doug (Martin Donovan), who has witnessed similar behaviour from his daughter at high school, exposes the fakery of her diagnosis on social media. As Katie’s facade slips, she persists with lying herself out of trouble in the midst of a social media backlash.
While White Lie doesn’t excuse Katie’s deceit, the film skilfully elicits sympathy for her. It is perversely entertaining to watch Katie convincingly manipulate everyone around her, and the film adroitly entangles the audience in her increasingly frantic measures to uphold her lie. Specific motives are never spelled out, although it’s subtly implied that Katie derives comfort from this veneer and only feels valued when behind it – a feeling symptomatic of the social media age. Although some audiences may crave for more detail, Rohl’s nuanced performance captures the emotional toll of keeping up this pretence in an utterly relatable way. Rohl’s captivating, deeply felt turn lays bare the fragile mental state behind this pathological liar.
White Lie is a relentlessly uncomfortable watch in the best possible way. Lewis and Thomas’ taut script calibrates the tension perfectly, giving the film enough room to unfurl naturally while keeping us gripped at the gradual disintegration of Katie’s web of lies. The directorial duo employ a grainy aesthetic and camerawork that rarely stays still, infusing the film with a nervous energy that ratchets up the pressure. Adding another layer of suspense to proceedings is Lev Lewis’ superbly propulsive, erratic score, which reaches a powerful crescendo during a third-act confrontation between Katie and a college professor.
Katie’s spiral of deception may be hard to watch at times but it’s never less then enthralling. Lewis and Thomas have announced themselves as a talented directorial force with this tense, expertly crafted and compellingly performed nail-biter.