Blumhouse Presents

Featured on Amazon Prime, Blumhouse Presents is a series of 90-plus-minute teleplays, designed to evoke the spooks out of very human tragedies. The first two episodes, “The Lie” and “Black Box,” both of which are now available on Prime, feature strong casts, compelling visuals, and stories to satiate the human desire to push beyond our boundaries. Both stories feature ethics and morality as their center grounds, respectively. Although both stories peter out midway through their run times, their characters are compelling enough that you remain glued to your seat until the end.

Grab your microwaved popcorn, your Fanta, your Pinot, your Cabernet, your blanket, and settle in for the thrills that Blumhouse Presents.

‘The Lie’ trailer courtesy of Amazon Studios.

‘The Lie’

Directed by: Veena Sud

Written by: Veena Sud, based on ‘We Monsters,’ by Marcus Seibert and Sebastian Ko

Starring: Mirelle Enos, Peter Sarsgaard, Joey King

The Lie‘ starts with a fractured relationship, perpetrated by two people who don’t trust one another.

Rebecca (Mirelle Enos), a powerful prosecutor, lives with her daughter, Kayla (Joey King). The standard accusation I could make about this relationship is that Rebecca is too busy with her career while trying to replace her ex-husband, Jay (Peter Sarsgaard), to notice Kayla’s attempts to get attention. Rebecca’s way of acknowledging this is through constant beratement.

Watching Kayla in the early part of the film, you can see how Rebecca’s methods to get her way have crept into Kayla’s moods and tendencies. Sud paints Jay as a loser of a father and husband. However, as we watch these characters develop, there is a surprising amount of caring between all of them.

It just takes an accident, and the subsequent compounding of lies in an attempt to cover it up for the family to see each other for who they are.

Sarsgard’s understated performance is a highlight; he can convey a feeling with his emotions, well beyond the dialogue while Enos’ range was fully on display.

Sud’s direction is strong, but the material plays as if she was rehashing the source material instead of making it her own. The problem is that there is so much tension wrought in the first two acts that as the web of lies comes untangled, we’re uninterested in the reveal. In the film’s favor, though, is Peter Wunstorf’s stark cinematography, namely for such a dark story set against the brilliant white snow or the overly perfect four-walled structure of Rebecca’s home with its wooden accents. A painting that adorns Rebecca’s feature wall in her great room caught my attention because it reflects the film’s central themes.

Wunstorf’s cinematography was at its peak when Rebecca finished with a conversation with Detective Kenji Tagata (Patti Kim). The two are conversing at the foyer, with Jay listening in from the landing on the second floor as Sud and Wunstorf capture the three characters’ reactions in the same frame. When they finish the conversation, and detective Tagata has left, Rebecca stands squarely in the center of the frame, claiming the moral high ground, even though Jay, her ex-husband of a foe, is on the higher ground. It’s a creative and innovative use of camera work, considering that the film’s characters are off-center.

It’s too bad, too. The characters that inhabit Blumhouse’s ‘The Lie’ were far more interesting than the unfocused and, ultimately, uninteresting storytelling.

‘Black Box’ Trailer courtesy of Amazon Studios.

‘Black Box’

Directed by: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr

Teleplay by: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr and Stephen Herman, Story by: Stephen Herman

Starring: Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine, Tosin Morohunfola, Charmaine Bingwa, Troy James

The second film in the Blumhouse Presents series is ‘Black Box.’ Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) is recovering from a severe accident in which his wife died. In addition to his physical recovery, he is also struggling mentally. He’s got a spunky daughter, Ava (Amanda Christine), to help him as he recovers, but Nolan can’t get over the feeling that he misremembers events.

The most substantial aspect of the script by director Osei-Kuffour and Stephen Herman is Nolan’s mental challenges. You’d expect them to be about remorse over the accident, remorse over the loss of a loved one. Instead, the duo treats Nolan like he’s in a waking dream, fully aware of his surroundings and able to interact, but unable to connect his reality with what his mind is telling him.

‘Black Box’ recalls past films such as ‘Total Recall’ (the 1990 version, not the remake) and just a bit of ‘Inception’ enough to question the reality in front of you. That’s where Dr. Lillian (Phylicia Rashad) comes on to the scene with her high-tech psychology to help Nolan recover his memories and sort out his demons.

Once again, Hilda Mercado’s cinematography is key to telling this story, especially visually. But it is Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour’s direction that is assured here. The characters and their situations are clearly in focus, even if there are gaps in logic.

Both of these early entrants from Blumhouse Presents are technically proficient. In the case of ‘The Lie,’ the technical work overshadows the story. It helps the character development, but it isn’t enough. ‘Black Box’ is a better film, where the film making drives the storytelling, blending into a much stronger thriller. Both films are now streaming on Amazon Prime.