VIFF Review: ‘White Lie’ is a tense psychological drama

The problem with telling a lie –even a white lie– is that in order to maintain it you have to tell more of them. Each new lie you tell builds on the ones you’ve already told until one day instead of maintaining some small mistruth you’re maintaining an entire narrative that you can barely keep straight.

This is the world of Katie Arneson (Kacey Rohl), the university student and dancer at the heart of Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas’s White Lie. With one minor difference: she hasn’t told a little white lie, she’s told the world she’s suffering from cancer.

What lengths would someone have to go to to maintain that lie? How long could you keep your head above water with the lies swirling around you? These are the questions at the heart of this movie.

Kacey Rohl / White Lie / VIFF 2019
Kacey Rohl / White Lie

As the film opens Katie is already neck deep in the ocean of lies she’s surrounded herself with. In the opening scene she is shaving her head and in the second scene she’s taking selfies with fans to promote a fundraiser for her cause.

The weather is starting to turn though. People are beginning to ask more and more questions and Katie is having to tell more elaborate lies to answer them. Kacey Rohl is great in this, as Katie bounces back and forth between the person she is and the persona she projects. In an early scene where Katie visits her disbelieving father (played by Martin Donovan) she shifts seamlessly from emotional pleas to manipulations and back again without missing a beat.

If the movie has an issue it’s that while we get well acquainted with what she’s doing and how she’s doing it, we get very little in the way of why she’s doing any of it.

It would be easy to just say "well she’s a sociopath" but outside of brief mention that she has faked an illness once before there’s virtually no motivation –implied or otherwise– to why she’s doing what she’s doing or what might have happened to make her this way, if anything. As a result the film doesn’t really reach the depths a character piece like this could.

But while it might be a little shallower than it maybe could have been White Lie still has something to say about who we are at our core versus the persona we show others. Part of the True North It has a strong central performance and a devastating last shot, and is definitely worth your time.