WHITE LIE (2020) follows Katie a university student fakes a cancer diagnosis for the attention and financial gain, struggles to maintain her secret, written and directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas.
It takes a very certain kind of psychology to be capable of such a heinous act as to fake a terminal illness to take advantage of the kindness and generosity of not only strangers but friends, which is what makes it so fascinating that Katie (Kacey Rohl) isn’t instantly detestable. The mix of writing as well as Rohl’s performance manage to create a sympathy for her, exposing her weakness and desperation to balance out her duplicitousness and deception. Rohl does a great job of physicalising the tension and anxiety that fills the story, awaiting the secret to be exposed, her performance has the wild eyes and nervous energy of a fox caught in a trap. As the story evolves that sympathy will likely lessen but by that point Rohl has already created such an intriguing presence that you’re on the edge of your seat.
The writing pushes that further with its relatively slow but nicely building progression, as Katie gets closer and closer to having her secret revealed to the world, it pulls you in deeper until you’re almost holding your breath to see what she’ll do next. It also creates a very quick on her feet quality to Katie, the speed in which she pulls lies out of thin air to cover probing questions is impressive. It takes a while to build up to exploring the relationship between Katie and Jennifer (Amber Anderson) but it’s always a pleasure to see such a naturally fitting lesbian relationship involved in a story that has no token or forced energy. The overall quality of the writing in WHITE LIE is a high level, it’s smart and observant but the way it lets itself down slightly is with the ending, with a story such as this that’s all about building to an explosive finale facing all the consequences of a character’s actions, it hits with a fizzle and not a bang. While it hits the points of revelation and forces Katie to really kick her deception into high gear, she never truly has to face the consequences and deal with the fallout which is disappointing. It lands a poignant and meaningful final moment, there’s one key line and one look to round out the film, which work but it’s a bit of an anti-climax.
Lewis and Thomas’s direction is very effective in emphasizing the tension and anxiety of the story in a natural manner, it’s not overly quick cuts and angular shots, it’s focusing intently on Katie and keeping a constant close eye. It impressively manages to never stray into darker territory, given the rather bleak subject, and you could almost compare the atmosphere that they build to Sciamma’s TOMBOY (2011), just in a much more morally bankrupt context. There’s an intimate quality to it, which likely is what helps to feed into the nearly likable quality to Katie, but at the same time it has the edge of a heist to it, akin to the tone of AMERICAN ANIMALS (2018). It’s a wonderful balance of personal drama with a barrage of tension.
There’s also some great support performances in WHITE LIE, particularly Anderson’s Jennifer, her unrelenting support and positivity push that tension and suspense so much further and the two of them have a lovely chemistry. Thomas Olajide only has a brief role but he makes a strong impression, dealing with his own moral quandaries and while there isn’t the time to look further into Connor Jessup’s Owen, he creates a very interesting mix of being focused on the business side while being surprisingly supportive to Katie which make him a bit of an enigma.
WHITE LIE will glue you to the edge of your seat awaiting Katie’s fate, it’s full of a gripping, almost delightfully uncomfortable tension. Rohl’s performance is a sincere highlight of 2020 and hopefully this will lead to many more roles for her as she brings a sharp deceit and desperation that are riveting to watch. Its only real downfall is that it builds that tension so strongly throughout then can’t provide a tangible outlet for it in the end, leaving the audience hanging but it’s still sincerely worth watching.