Telling Lies (2008)

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Tricks of the mind . . . and a schoolgirl accused of murder!
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UK / 81 minutes / color / Metro, Media One Global Entertainment, Motion Picture Partners Dir: Antara Bhardwaj Pr: Sunanda Murali Manohar Scr: Carl Austin, Mike Kramer Story: Carl Austin Cine: Ravi Yadav Cast: Melanie Brown, Jenna Harrison, Kelly Stables, Jason Flemyng, Algina Lipskis, Richard Fry, Matt D’Angelo, Carmen Du Sautoy, Claire Amias, Jane McDowell, Helen Worsley, Bethany Hague, Chloe Rose-Thomas, Lee “Dags” Alliston, Spud Murphy, Mary Mitchell, Genevive Swallow, Mike Mungarden, Kristian Wilkin, Susan Scott, Sarita Sabharwal.

Faith Munro (Harrison) has returned to her posh school, St. Matthew’s, after a period of compassionate leave following the death by carbon monoxide poisoning of her alcoholic mother Diana (McDowell). The girl’s having difficulty fitting back in; matters aren’t helped by the discovery that, during her absence, her boyfriend Derek Ellis (D’Angelo) has ditched her in favor of classmate Portia Samuels (Lipskis), who seems to revel in rubbing Faith’s nose in the reality of her changed status.

Portia (Algina Lipskis) and Derek (Matt D’Angelo) are very public about their new relationship.

Matters aren’t great at home, either. Her father, Jack (Flemyng, in a distinctly one-note portrayal), is a prominent defense lawyer who for too many years has let his job devour the time and energy he should have been devoting to his family, and whose only responses to Faith’s acting-out of her grief over the death of her mother are fury and punishment.

Jack Munro (Jason Flemyng) still hasn’t learned how to be a father to his disturbed daughter.

Faith is abruptly befriended by a new girl at the school, Eve Forrester (Stables), a Californian who clearly regards herself as a rebel.

One of our first sightings of Eve (Kelly Stables).

It’s Eve who joins Faith in the detention she gets for picking a fight with Portia; and it’s Eve who, when the invigilating teacher, Mr. Graves (Murphy), falls asleep, lures Faith from the room with a clandestine pack of cigarettes and bottle of cheap scotch. It’s Eve who prompts Faith into playing a nasty little trick on Portia, getting her seized in a Fopp music store on suspicion of nicking a CD. And it’s Eve who suggests that the best way for Faith to get her revenge on the, er, faithless Derek is to invent a fictitious boyfriend who is older and far cooler than Derek himself . . . one who has, lucky sod, reached bases with Faith of which poor Derek could only dream.

Faith in detention (Jenna Harrison).

We learn all this in the form of extended flashbacks during Faith’s interrogation by Detective Maggie Thomas (Brown) during the course of a murder investigation. We also learn that no one else has any recollection of ever having seen Eve. It becomes pretty obvious that we’re being set up for a riff on The Other (1971), Thomas Tryon’s tale of a boy whose imaginary twin commits crimes of increasing gravity. (It was filmed as The Other [1972] dir Robert Mulligan, with Uta Hagen, Diana Muldaur and, playing the “twins,” Chris and Martin Udvarnoky.)

Detective Maggie Thomas (Melanie Brown) interrogates Faith.

The trouble with things that are pretty obvious is that sometimes they turn out to be not obvious at all—to be something quite different from what we thought.

The murder that Maggie Thomas is investigating is that of Vincent Hodges (Wilkin), who just happens to be the ultracool Oxford University student whom Faith thought that she and Eve invented out of whole cloth and a portrait photo found on a dating site. All kinds of circumstantial evidence points to Faith having been the killer, not least the way that she seems so obviously—that word again—to be lying about so many things: the supposed existence of Eve, the supposed nonexistence of Vincent, her whereabouts when CCTV quite clearly shows her sharing a hotel room with the man—the hotel room where his body was found . . .

Eve (Kelly Stables) by the disused swimming pool the two girls use as a hiding place.

The police psychiatrist, Dr. Meyers (Du Sautoy), is certain Faith is a victim of multiple personality—that Eve is the girl’s evil other persona. Maggie’s colleagues, including her partner, Detective Bill Neary (Fry), are prepared to go along with that. Yet Maggie herself is convinced there’s something more going on.

Dr. Meyers (Carmen Du Sautoy) recommends a psychiatric institution for Faith.

And she’s right.

Even the death of Faith’s mother wasn’t quite what it seemed . . .

Faith (Jenna Harrison) discovers her dead mother (Jane McDowell).

Top billing here goes to Melanie Brown, better known to everyone else but me as Mel B, or Scary Spice; she came to prominence as a member of a pop group whose music I would willingly stuff my head down any halfway hygienic urinal rather than listen to, coz I’m an eardrum snob. She handles herself capably enough as an actress here, though, that I’m tempted to investigate some of the solo work she’s done since the dissolution of the Spice Girls.

But the real star of Telling Lies is obviously Jenna Harrison, one of those actresses who’s puzzlingly less well known than you’d think she should be. If you’re a fan of the UK crime TV series that tend to get aired in the US in the Masterpiece Mystery slot on PBS you may well recognize her, but this is a rare starring role for her—and it’s not exactly in a commercially frontline movie.

Jenna Harrison as Faith and Melanie Brown as Maggie.

Kelly Stables, playing opposite Harrison as the elusive Eve, unfortunately suffers a little by contrast. It could be argued that the superficiality of and the sheen of artificiality surrounding Stables’s performance are together a deliberate piece of intrigue designed to tip us off to the fact that Eve is indeed an artificial—nonexistent—human being, but I’m not certain I quite swallow that. And, to be fair, the actress was given some pretty bad lines.

Richard Fry as Maggie’s colleague Bill Neary.

On the whole, however, the script is rather good, as when Jack Munro berates his daughter for getting into a fight with Portia:

Jack: “Faith, you gave her a black eye.”
Faith: “It’s an improvement. Trust me.”

But it’s in the plotting rather than the writing that the strength of Telling Lies’s screenplay lies. I don’t mind admitting that the resolution of all the bizarre events came as a complete—and very pleasurable—surprise to me.

Some of the production standards in Telling Lies are not of the highest—there’s a TV movie feel to the production as a whole—and some of the support acting is not of the greatest, but that’s what we often find in low-budget independent movies. If you do decide to give Telling Lies a whirl, can I suggest you wipe your mind of everything I’ve said here so that you can be as surprised as I was by the denouement.

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On Amazon.com: Telling Lies [DVD]

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5 thoughts on “Telling Lies (2008)

  1. Well…well…I mean, this sounds very intriguing indeed. I’m not usually a fan of reading this sort of psychological suspense — it pretty much peaked with Margaret Millar’s novel Beast in View for me — there can be no denying that it tends to fare well on the screen even without, as it seems here, the slickest of stars and biggest of budgets. I’m reminded of the relatively low-key David Mamet films of the late 90s or early 2000s, which exploited unknown (and occasionally well-known, see The Spanish Prisoner) casts to confound your expectations. Sure, this may not have Mamet’s ear for fine writing, but you’ve got me interested nonetheless…

    • Sure, this may not have Mamet’s ear for fine writing

      I often find that Mamet has too much of an “ear for for fine writing” for his own good! — that the results can become artificial and stagy. I get the impression that he needs to have casts with the oomph to insist on making the dialogue a tad more naturalistic. But I take your point about the interest of much of his work.

      One of the reasons that I tend to keep an eye on TVMs is that their makers, being no dummies, have realized that psychological suspense is one of those genres where you don’t actually need much of a budget to make a good and challenging movie: so long as you have an intelligent script, who cares if you have major stars in the lead roles.

      Have you watched the Rosemary & Thyme series? If so, you may recognize Harrison, the star here, as Angelica — the taciturn Polish student — in the “Sweet Angelica” episode.

      • No doubt Mamet’s dialogue felt somewhat stilted, but in a weird sort of way I found this meant he could slip more and more past me — the more you’re focusing on how odd and unnatural it feels, the more he slips little things past you (the bit with the swimming pool in The Spanish Prisoner, for one — a piece of misdirection genius). Everything feels wrong, so more and more cleverness can creep by under the guise of not feeling right without you really noticing that’s what’s going on. That’s my interpretation, anyway 😛

        I don’t know Rosemary and Thyme, no. I’m not even sure how or when I’ll get a chance to check this out, but I’m grateful for it being brought to my attention. Low budget but twisty as hell is a great type of film in which to lose oneself…

    • Many thanks for that reminder — I meant to reference Fight Club in the text but in my haste completely forgot to do so. You’re absolutely correct.

      Not so sure about the analogy with O. See what you think if you get the chance to watch the movie.

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