The folks at Blumhouse sure know what they’re doing. In the midst of a global pandemic, when theatrical releases are either relegated to drive-ins or postponed to 2021, they came up with a clever way to market eight of their upcoming films. Along with Amazon Studios, they created a multi-week streaming event called Welcome to the Blumhouse. Four of their films will release this month, the next four in 2021, all of them as double-features. First up The Lie and Black Box, both debuting on Amazon this week. And the results? Well, they’re a little mixed.
Amazon Studios/Blumhouse Television
The Lie, directed by Veena Sud, opens with home video footage of a family. Two happy parents, one happy little girl. All flashing, white smiles. It’s wholesome, but a cruel appetizer, because the story that follows is about as bleak as it gets. We flash-forward to the family as they are now. Rebecca (Mirielle Enos) is the chilly matriarch, who wears crisp business suits and works in a large, sterile office. Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) is her ex-husband, a walking midlife crisis who moved downtown and joined a band the second he hit bachelor status. And then there’s their 15-year-old daughter Kayla (Joey King), your typical teenage girl—headphones permanently stuck in her ears, her mood all over the place.
One chilly winter morning, Rebecca passes Kayla off to Jay, who’s all set to drive her to a ballet retreat the next town over. As the two make their way through the snow, they notice a girl at a bus stop. It’s Kayla’s best friend Brittany (Devery Jacobs), who’s headed to the same retreat, so Jay says he’ll give her a ride. We get the sense that she has a complicated relationship with her dad (Cas Anvar), and a striking bruise on her face hints at some kind of hidden trauma. But before we learn much about Brittany, she’s gone. Jay pulls off to the side of the road so the girls can use the bathroom, but when they take too long and he goes looking, he finds only Kayla. She’s standing on a bridge, frantic and afraid. And then she admits something that alters the course of everyone’s lives forever: she pushed Brittany off the bridge during an altercation.
What unfolds is a harrowing, tense psychological drama that brings every parents worst nightmare to the forefront. How far would you go to protect your child—even if your child is a monster? And how much of ourselves show up in the people we raise? The Lie asks the hard questions, and it asks them with a scalpel to the neck. It’s a highly watchable, anxiety-inducing 90-minute movie, but ultimate it struggles with that runtime—-and eventually buckles under it completely. The Lie might work as an hour-long piece of television, but it doesn’t quite cut it as a feature film. It mostly unravels with a final reveal that’s more frustrating than it is harrowing. Twists can be fun, but they need to be just right to not feel like a slap in the face. This one feels like a slap.
Amazon Studios/Blumhouse Television
This is where Welcome to the Blumhouse starts to feel a little bit like Black Mirror. This installment follows Nolan (Mamoudou Athie), a father and photographer who recently suffered a terrible car crash that killed his wife and left him without most of his memories. He’s struggling; the crash not only stripped him of important family memories, but it affected his work, and therefore his financial stability, and a lot of his self-worth. He can’t even be a present father to his young daughter Ava (Amanda Christine)—who he now parents alone—because he has a hard time remembering even basic facts about their life together.
Fed up and frustrated, Nolan follows the advice of his friend Gary (Tosin Morohunfola) and seeks out doctor Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad), whose running an experimental trial that might help Nolan retrieve his memories. She straps him to a machine that tosses him into his own subconscious, and into those memories he desperately wants to restore. But something is off about the whole thing. For starters, Lillian is so kind, she seems suspicious. And then there’s the matter of Nolan’s memories, which are distorted: faces appear blank and he’s being haunted by some twisted, bone-crunching, spider-walking man. They’re also not as rosy-perfect as Gary seems to suggest they were. Is Nolan really the good guy he first appears to be?
Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.’s feature film debut is a strong effort. It’s creepy as hell and it worms its way right into your psyche. There are odes of J-horror and Get Out in Black Box, and themes that tie to The Lie in some pretty profound ways. (We see why Blumhouse made these two a double feature.) But also like The Lie, the mesmerizing first half wavers a bit as the story goes along, and ultimately struggles under its heavy plot. But this one is the standout of the two, as it boasts impressive performances (particularly from Athie), sharp direction, and a punchy, creepy score that’ll have you looking for spider-walking men around every corner.
Featured Image: Amazon Studios/Blumhouse Television