No one wishes to be diagnosed with cancer.
Except Katherine Arneson, but that’s exactly what she wants you to think.
*this article contains spoilers*
From Canadian writer-director duo Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis comes White Lie, an award-winning drama crossed with physiological thriller. Skipping basic narrative structure, it immediately jumps into action. A young woman is going through her typical morning routine of shaving her head with a razor. We follow her to school where her face is plastered around campus through posters and a fundraising booth. She’s stopped by schoolmates not just for the usual small talk but even for pictures, making her late for dance class.
In just the first few minutes of the film, we know so much yet so little. We realize quickly that Katherine (Hannibal’s Kacey Rohl) isn’t actually sick, but everyone close to her believes she is. She’s become a local celebrity and has run successful fundraising campaigns in her name. She even has her devoted girlfriend, Jennifer (Emma’s Amber Anderson) fooled, along with the school. However, when Katie goes to her dad (Martin Donovan) for money, he admits he suspects that she’s lying again.
This isn’t the first time his daughter has lied about being sick to get what she wanted.
Our antihero finds an enemy in her father. He ultimately posts online that she is faking it after a failed attempt at contacting Jennifer. With everyone suspicious of her now, Katie will continue creating a lie so great that it might just become true.
Normally, for me to truly enjoy a film, I have to experience some sort of empathy for the main character. Though she may be the protagonist of her story, Katie is actually the antagonist of the supporting characters’ stories. Nonetheless, this is Katie’s story alone as the camera focuses on her with a telephoto lens and extreme close-ups; separating her from the world.
Not only are we focused on her nonstop but we get a sense that she, too, is completely wrapped up in herself—rather than considering how her actions affect others. Liking a movie and liking the characters are not necessarily synonymous. Rohl, who portrays our fake cancer patient, is outstanding in this role. She carries the entire movie, ranging from careless to anxious to panicked to angry to sobbing. Although I can’t feel sympathy towards her, it’s difficult to feel nothing towards her.
By beginning the movie mid-story with no inciting incident or exposition, the viewer is on edge the entire time; searching for explanations, awaiting answers.
The filmmakers use every trick in the book. Tracking shots, subtle zooms, and a score fit for a thriller (or even horror) keeps viewers in anticipation for every moment.
An enjoyable element of the film is that I never knew what was really happening or what might happen next. As the credits rolled, I realized how little I found out. I still wonder why Katie began the lie in the first place and why she chose to start so many fundraising campaigns, continually taking money from people. Additionally, anytime she receives money, she uses it just to maintain the façade by purchasing illegal and fake medications, and of course, forge medical records. Near the end, after the public finds out about her scam, she almost goes so far as to go into debt to have a doctor literally make her sick.
If you’ve ever known a pathological liar or had a horribly manipulative friend, White Lie might be hard to watch because Katie is both.
The film sometimes feels too true-to-life.
While the film isn’t based on a specific story, the filmmakers did actually research real-life cases similar to the plot while working on the story. It plays out like a classic cautionary tale; warning about the consequences of lying while also showcasing an unfortunate reality of fraudulent charities and fake friends. This fast-paced drama runs 96 minutes but you’ll be left thinking about it long afterwards.
Named to TIFF’s annual year-end Canada’s Top Ten list, White Lie originally premiered at TIFF in 2019, followed by an international premiere at the 24th Busan International Film Festival. Nominated for multiple awards at a variety of festivals, it took home two wins at the Vancouver Film Critics Circle for Best Screenplay for a Canadian Film and Best Supporting Actress (Amber Anderson) in a Canadian film. Additionally, it won the Rene Rodriguez Critics Award at the Miami Film Festival and received an Honorable Mention for Rohl’s performance at the Philadelphia Film Festival.
White Lie will be available across digital streaming platforms on January 5, 2021.
Header: White Lie (Film Forge Productions)