Kacey Rohl in White Lie (2020)
White Lie is an unsettling and disturbing portrait of a persona built on dishonesty. Filmmakers Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas craft a claustrophobic story based around the idea of a lie spiraling out of measured control. The story follows Katie Arneson (Kacey Rohl), an undergrad who fakes having cancer and takes advantage of a supportive community which includes her caring girlfriend Jennifer (Amber Anderson). On the verge of exposure after forging medical records to receive academic bursary, Katie sinks deeper and deeper into the world of lies she created. She has an exhausting commitment to maintaining this fake persona, which gives the film a sinking feeling at every turn. An eerie opening sequence immediately lets in on the protagonist’s delusion and the fact that she does not believe she’ll face repercussions for her actions.
From the moment Katie is introduced, shaving her head before showing up at a small school fundraising event held in her name, she is completely immersed in maintaining a charade to the point of no return. The more she faces questioning and potential accountability, the more she fuels a self-portrait of dishonesty. For Katie, the backbone of her persona is a lie. She would rather build lie upon lie than express any semblance of wrongdoing and untangle the brazenly deceptive role she created for herself. Insight into what lies beneath this persona isn’t explored fully in the film. There are hints to a traumatic experience Katie went through with her parents some years prior. The film often works in interpretive spaces and avoids explanations as to why she continues down this disastrous path.
A tremendous performance by Kacey Rohl carries the powerful intensity of this film. The detailed commitment she brings to her character gives the story a lingering gravitational pull. She does a wonderful job playing Katie’s disturbing sense of entitlement and determination to live a lie. This character is completely consumed by a self-made falsehood, and Rohl is an enigma to watch as her performance descends with a lack of awareness for how much harm she is causing. For Katie, a world without lies is distant; she feels an unwavering urge to continuously manipulate everyone around her in order to get what she wants. The supporting cast of characters each represent various perspectives on Katie’s actions. When she visits her father Doug (Martin Donovan) in need of money, he shows an instant apprehension and ultimately claims not to believe she’s ill. When she’s put in touch with Dr. Jabari Jordan (Thomas Olajide) to forge medical documents and he sets his boundaries, she retaliates. Each time Katie is met with doubt, she pushes back in a manner of hurt and betrayal. The one relationship she is determined to keep is with her girlfriend Jennifer. Katie and Jennifer met when the former started this charade; there is a connection Katie makes between maintaining the lie and keeping the relationship. If she’s not ill, she fears Jennifer will leave her. Katie’s unwavering ability to keep secrets from the person she loves most drives the film to a searing final act that tests Jennifer’s trust and patience in who she thought she knew.
White Lie is a solid drama that explores the mental exhaustion of maintaining a charade for personal comfort and gratification. The story maintains an incredibly tense pulse and invests a lot of time in showing how the protagonist is living in two different worlds: reality, and a warped version of it that she controls. While the story is planted in her perspective, there is still a lot of unexplored potential for a deeper character study, which ultimately hinders the final act. But it is Kacey Rohl who elevates the material and maintains a constant feeling of dread. One of the most startling lines in the film happens when Katie insists that she “won’t be sick anymore,” as if she can evaporate the rippling effect of her actions at the drop of a hat. It’s a deeply unsettling moment that speaks to Rohl’s steadfast commitment in bringing this character to a point of no return.
White Lie is now streaming on Amazon Prime: http://bit.ly/WhiteLieMovie
3 out of 5 stars