March 30, 2023

Film Review: White Lie

When I used to watch Breaking Bad, I would often take a break every twenty minutes or so because the tension was so unbearably intense. That same heightened level of tension can be found in White Lie.

Katie Arneson (Kacey Rohl) has found some notoriety around her college campus as a result of her recent cancer diagnosis. She’s created a crowd-sourcing fundraising website to help with bills and medical expenses and has generated support from friends, schoolmates, and, most importantly, her girlfriend Jen (Amber Anderson). The problem is that her illness is a complete fabrication. Katie is faking cancer, and to perpetuate her lie, she must overcome a series of obstacles, which becomes more and more difficult to do so.

Kacey Rohl in “White Lie” (Photo: Film Forge Productions)

White Lie was written and directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, a duo who have had a string of acclaimed films together, including Amy George, The Oxbow Cure,  and Spice It Up.  Here they have crafted an incredibly tense and effective drama that does not let up for most of its hour and thirty-six-minute run time. They have created a character, that despite her incredibly immoral actions, is absolutely relatable. We empathize with her fear of being caught, if for no other reason than for her being the protagonist of the film. We instinctively want her to succeed in her lies, even though we objectively know she is morally bankrupt.

The film is brilliantly crafted, with each lie and each set back raising the tension level exponentially. Watching the film, you are waiting for a release valve to relieve some of the tension, but relief only comes in small amounts. The film benefits from some great performances, particularly from Rohl. She manages to internalize Katie’s growing fear while at the same time externalize the fabricated emotions that she must portray to conceal her lie. Rohl’s work has primarily been in Vancouver-based American television series, such as Fringe, Supernatural, and X-Files, with recurring roles on Arrow, The Magicians and Hannibal. She’s had a few roles in feature films such as Red Riding Hood with Amanda Seyfried and Flicka: Country Pride with Clint Black, but I suspect she’ll break out after her performance here. Katie’s actions are deplorable, making her an unlikable character, yet through Rohl’s performance, you find yourself rooting for her.

Kacey Rohl and Amber Anderson in “White Lie” (Photo: Film Forge Productions)

Also strong is Anderson, who portrays the concerned and caring girlfriend who wants nothing more than to be more involved in Katie’s cancer fight. She asks only to be able to go with Katie to doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments so she can offer support. Though, as these medical appointments do not actually exist, Katie is forced to keep Jen at bay, both physically and emotionally.

The strained relationship between Katie and her father (Martin Donovan of Weeds, Ant-Man, and Tenet) is portrayed very nicely, with an uncomfortableness that adds to the film’s growing tension. Also adding to the tension is composer Lev Lewis, who’s frantic and unsettling score immediately sets the tone of the film.

The film’s portrayal of the use and consequences of social media, particularly Facebook and sites like Go Fund Me, propels the plot but does not preach its merits or detriments in the least bit. We are not subjected to a heavy-handed editorial about the ramifications of social media, but instead, it is shown simply as a reflection of our culture.

The film requires the slightest bit of suspension of disbelief, which stems from the fact that we are never really told how Katie’s lie began, let alone how it got as far as it has. The film’s trailer offers a look at Katie initially shaving her head, along with a voice-over from her crowdsourcing fundraising video, which offers a bit more insight, but neither of those made the final cut of the film.

We are also not provided with much in the way of motivation for Katie’s actions. A family-related backstory offers some potential explanation as to why Katie has devised this elaborate lie, but any connection between the two needs to be inferred with little information; not enough to create a solid guess at least.

It’s possible that including either of these did nothing to elevate the story or tension of the final edit and were intentionally left out. As we are immediately thrown into Katie’s world mid-lie, the film begins with a heightened level of tension, which may have been diminished if there was a slow build toward it.

Some may be turned off by the film’s ending, as it strays from audience expectations, but that’s what I liked about it. We are not insulted with a typical Hollywood resolution but rather stricken with the harsh reality of how a scenario like this might actually play out.

White Lie is an incessantly tense character piece aided by some solid performances. I strongly recommend searching this one out.

White Lie is currently available for pre-order and will be released on VOD on Jan. 5.


Quick Scan

An incredibly tense and compelling film elevated by strong performances from its leads.

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