REVIEW: ‘White Lie’ (2019) is Absolutely Enthralling in the Emotions it Provokes

Rating: 5 out of 5.

White Lie is an unremitting descent into madness and the spiralling, full-body panic of a lie gone terribly wrong.”

Have you ever told a lie that you just can’t keep up with? Your hands start to shake, your heart feels like it could simply fall out of your chest, and if you’ve dug the hole deep enough you might even briefly have a thought flicker across your mind—I would do anything to keep this lie alive, to not get caught, to not have to admit to my own failings. White Lie is an unremitting descent into madness and the spiralling, full-body panic of a lie gone terribly wrong. The film’s directors, Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, have masterfully crafted a thriller in the body of a drama about a university student faking a cancer diagnosis.

A popular university student and veritable campus celebrity, Katie Arneson (Kacey Rohl), has been faking her cancer for quite some time. Her crowdfunding campaigns have raised her over $5,000 and her diagnosis has earned her the support of the community, dozens of friends, and a devoted girlfriend. Katie’s lie starts to spin out of her control though when a bursary she was counting on requires a copy of her medical records. Faced with increasing pressures and suspicions, her intricately arranged life buckles under the weight. 

Rohl’s performance as Arneson is a tense and unrelenting thrill to witness—she plays the part of a manipulative and unhinged, yet sympathetic character to perfection. Her choking sobs as she begs her dad Doug Arneson (Martin Donovan) to take down his tell-all Facebook post about her lies are as real and difficult to watch on screen as if the cries were your own or of someone you loved. Even as Katie continues to do more and more harm to those closest to her, her actions are tinged by the filmmakers with appropriate complexity, ever growing horror, and almost shockingly, understanding. Her desperate manipulations to regain the trust and affection of her girlfriend Jennifer Ellis (Amber Anderson) are simultaneously far too subtle and far too loud, close enough to be believable until they aren’t anymore.

One of the strongest points of the film is in its ending. Having seemingly regained the trust of her girlfriend and with a newly hatched plan all laid out to regain the public’s confidence, Katie has seemingly won in this game of lies and consequences. But in a final yearning and heedless act Katie proposes, promising to tell Jennifer everything if she only says yes. Ultimately, her deep seated desire to love and to be loved strips away all the lies and the machinations, telling the truth where she could not and unintentionally revealing the malignance that has festered in her soul. 

White Lie is a compelling character study and absolutely enthralling in the emotions it provokes: gripping panic, unexpected understanding, and existential sorrow. It is available to watch January 5, 2021 on various digital streaming platforms.

Directed By: Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas

Produced By: Karen Harnisch, Yonah Lewis, Calvin Thomas, Katie Bird Nolan, Lindsay Tapscott

Cast: Kacey Rohl, Amber Anderson, Martin Donovan, Thomas Olajide, Connor Jessup, Sharon Lewis, Christine Horne, Darrin Baker, Zahra Bentham, Lanette Ware, Carolina Bartczak

Release Date: January 5, 2021

Available On: DirecTV, Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, FlixFling, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, Fandango, and Google Play

Featured Image Courtesy of Film Forge Productions