Fatal Deceit - review (Netflix)
I watch so as you don't have to.
Brief synopsis: After a woman splits from her estranged husband, he is reported killed in a car accident. Their daughter, who blames the mother not only for the split but also for her father’s death, pulls away from her, becoming reclusive. When a new neighbour helps to bring the daughter out of her shell, the woman lets her daughter go on a camping trip with the neighbour. The daughter disappears.
Is it any good?: Fatal Deceit - also known as ‘Gaslit’ and the wordier ‘Is My Daughter Really Dead?’ - is a passable television movie that starts weakly, improves as it goes along and then turns to crap at the end. As is ever the case with many of these television movies, the characters do inexplicably stupid things and make stupid decisions.
Admittedly, that is half the fun but the sheer unnecessary complexity of this film will have you rolling your eyes and wondering just why anyone would think like this.
Spoiler territory: Gallery owner, Olivia (Zoe McLellan) kicks out her estranged husband, Layne (Matthew Pohlkamp) because of his infidelity. Their daughter, Hannah (Stevie Lynn Jones), a teenager in her mid-twenties, comes in just as her father is leaving.
They have not told her because she is too mentally fragile. What the mother had planned to tell her God only knows. She does not want her father to leave. Olivia, heartless bitch, insists on him leaving. Layne bids farewell to a tearful Hannah.
Both artists, mother and daughter are in the garden painting. Hannah is still resentful that her mother kicked her father out. Olivia, the evil witch, comments on the improving techniques of Hannah’s strokes. Police detective, Bruce (Chris Dougherty) comes to the house. He has some bad news. Layne has been killed in a car accident.
Olivia is preparing for the opening of her new gallery, life goes on after all, when an old friend, Jack (Mike Erwin) comes to see her. Jack is an artist and disappeared for a while. He needed a break. Well, that clears that up. She is happy to see him. She tells him what has been happening in her life and how Layne has recently died. Hannah blames her for his death.
Jack is sympathetic but is looking for a place to stay. Olivia, who is glad Layne is dead but too discreet to say it, says he can stay in the gallery. Jack says that maybe he can help Hannah get over her trauma with some painting lessons, to help express her emotions through painting and such bollocks.
Olivia thanks him for this, frankly, ludicrous suggestion and says she will call him to set something up. That’s it just hand your daughter over to the dodgy artist.
Jack is not finished taking advantage of the situation and asks if he can display some of his art pieces in the gallery. Milf doormat Olivia happily obliges. Returning home, Olivia meets new neighbour, Mary (Stephanie Charles).
Mary and her daughter, Sydney (Ryan Madison) have just moved from Seattle. Olivia remarks on how she also had moved from Seattle a few months earlier. So no alarm bells then? Nothing? Okay.
Sydney comes out to help her mother and is introduced to Olivia. Sydney cannot get in through the back door. Mary tells her there is a key under the mat. Olivia goes home to her morose daughter. Hannah is looking at a newspaper clipping of the report on her father’s accident.
She asks if it's possible, that it was not her father, as the body was burnt beyond recognition. Olivia, a person who never pays attention to signs, say no.
She asks Hannah why she missed her therapy appointment with Lisa (Samantha Colburn) and suggest they might help with processing her grief. She changes tacked and tells her Jack has returned.
Hannah perks up a bit to just miserable. Olivia immediately sells the idea of her seeing Jack. Hannah is more open to that idea. Surprise.
As mother and daughter paint in the soon-to-be-open gallery, Gretchen (Briana Cuoco), the caterer for the opening, comes in and gives her an invoice for her services. She greets both Olivia and her daughter.
Olivia returns home where neighbour Mary, who has on far too much makeup for gardening, calls to her. Olivia invites her for coffee. Over coffee, blabbermouth Olivia tells Mary everything that is going on in her life. She also tells her that Layne had been jealous of her relationship with Jack, accusing her of having an affair.
Mary tells her that she and her daughter are going camping that coming weekend. She invites Olivia because one always invites strangers to join you for a camping trip of all things.
Olivia is alone and waits anxiously for Hannah to return home. It is daytime. Hannah comes in and tells her she was next door - those neighbours are really friendly - chatting with Sydney. She missed her meeting with Jack.
Hannah wants to go camping with the neighbours. Olivia has something close to an alarm bell moment but lets Hannah go camping with the random neighbours after she makes the argument that Sydney is the only friend she has made since moving.
The next morning, Olivia gets up and sees Hannah off. Olivia heads to the gallery and chats with Jack. She tries to call Hannah but has no joy. Olivia does not hear from her all weekend. The neighbours return and she goes to meet Hannah. Hannah is not with them. Mary tells her that Hannah never came with them.
Olivia tells Mary that Sydney invited her. Mary tells her that Sydney was away visiting her father in Seattle. Olivia goes to the gallery and searches for Hannah frantically, screaming at Jack.
He tells her they should call the police and go and talk to the neighbours. He says ‘we’ but leaves her to run off like a crazy woman to go and confront the neighbour alone.
Olivia sneaks into Mary’s house - key under the mat remember - and is, unsurprisingly, confronted by Mary. Mary tells her that they never met Hannah.
Sydney comes out and backs her mother’s story. Olivia is convinced that she is lying. Mary, a black woman, remains remarkably calm considering a crazy woman has broken into her house. Olivia calls Bruce.
Bruce comes over immediately. Olivia tells him that Hannah has disappeared and everything that has happened. Bruce goes to see the neighbour and returns.
She told him the same thing; she has not seen Hannah. Bruce tells Olivia he is taking her to the police station. He tells her to put a coat on because is cold.
He takes her to see Lisa. Lisa is a therapist and a redhead. Red flags right there. Lisa welcomes Olivia and tells her she missed her last appointment. Olivia starts to rage, telling Lisa that no one is helping her to find her daughter. Lisa tells her that her daughter is dead. She died in the crash that killed Layne.
Lisa tells her that she needs to shock her back into reality. Olivia sticks to her story of having seen Hannah before the weekend. Bruce comes into the therapy room and supports the doctor's story. They take a traumatised Olivia back home.
Lisa takes her into the house. Lisa turns up the heat in the house. She gives her hot tea. She all also tells her she might be suffering from disassociation due to grief. Lisa keeps on reinforcing the death of Hannah. Olivia breaks down.
Olivia wakes up the next day to find Mary cooking breakfast for her. Of course, that makes sense, cook breakfast for the crazy woman who broke into your home and ranted at you. They sit and eat breakfast. Well, Mary does. Olivia stares around the room.
She notices the two paintings she and Hannah had been working on and runs to get her mobile phone.
Hannah had sent her a photo of her painting. The message is gone. Mary is about to leave as a package arrives. It is two urns. They are Layne and Hannah’s ashes. Olivia rushes out of the house. She goes to see Jack and tells him about the urns. She tells Jack about the entire episode since being told that Hannah was dead. Genius Jack immediately thinks something is fishy.
Bruce asks Lisa how long will it take to convince Olivia of the scenario she has been given. Lisa is not sure. Bruce says they have to do it for Layne. Jack tells Olivia he moved away because he did have feelings for her and did not want to harm her marriage. Not that dopey Olivia would have noticed.
Bruce gives Mary some documents to give to Olivia. Olivia tells Jack that Layne died on the day she kicked him out of the house. Genius Jack pontificates that Hannah might be alive! No! Did anybody see her body? Of course not. Olivia is off running again.
She goes to find Gretchen and accosts her in a car park. She asks her if she remembers meeting Hannah. Gretchen says she vaguely remembers meeting her. Olivia asks her to come and tell the police.
Gretchen tells her that she will meet her after she has taken care of some work. Olivia leaves. Gretchen is immediately stabbed to death by an unknown assailant. Bad day. Olivia tells Bruce about Gretchen and how she met Hannah.
Olivia gets a text from Gretchen phone. She is not coming. Obvs. Bruce tells her she needs to rest. He puts a cardigan on her. She needs to keep warm. Bruce leaves and calls someone.
Mary comes over and gives Olivia the death certificates and a news article that details their deaths. Olivia recognises the articles banner. It is the same as the one Hannah had. Haha!
Olivia calls Jack. No idea why. She is convinced that Hannah is still alive. Mary tells her she is going to turn the heat up. Lisa and Bruce come to visit. Olivia pretends that she has accepted Hannah’s death.
They leave. Mary asks what she plans to do. She says she is going to save her daughter. She thinks she is at the cabin that Layne was heading to when he died. Mary says she will go with her.
At the cabin, a perfectly, not dead, Layne is chopping wood. Hannah is with him and marvels at the fact that he is still alive. She thinks he should tell her mother. Layne says it is not a good idea.
Olivia believes Layne had planned it all along. Mary lets slip that Bruce and Layne were like brothers. Hannah, who is far more inquisitive than her mother, starts asking Layne about the accident and how he is alive.
Olivia, whose alarm bells have finally started ringing, asks Mary how she knew Layne and Bruce were close. Mary tries to distract her, turning the heat up in the car.
Sydney goes to the gallery and talks to Jack. She thinks something bad is going to happen. She tells him that Hannah is alive. Why she would go to Jack, a perfect stranger, is anybody’s guess.
Mary pulls over and calls…Layne! Gasp! Sydney tells Jack that Bruce helped cover up everything and her mother told her to keep her trap shut. Her mum will not be happy then. Both mother and daughter get suspicious of the phone call. Mary tells Layne that Olivia knows but she will take care of it.
Layne tries to tell Hannah that her mother had an accident but Hannah is not a moron and does not believe him. She runs off. Olivia, the confusion clearing, tells Mary that she realises that they are all in on the ruse. Mary, embracing the full crazy black woman trope, tells Olivia that they were trying to drive her crazy, hence the heat and misinformation to break her.
It was Lisa’s plan. Mary, having confessed, puts on her leather jacket and retrieves her massive kitchen knife from the boot. These are her killing tools. When she kills Olivia, she can marry Layne.
Olivia sees Gretchen dead in the boot. She starts running. Mary gives chase. All four of them are running around the woods. Hannah runs into her mother.
Mary grabs Hannah and threatens to kill her. Layne tries to calm her down. Bruce and Lisa turn up. Bruce pulls his gun and tells Mary to put her knife down. Layne is still trying to talk her into not killing Hannah. He gets between Mary and Hannah.
Mary, who is full homicidal maniac crazy now, wants to kill Hannah. Bruce shoots as Mary lunges at Hannah. He kills Layne and Mary. Jack and Sydney never arrive so….I don’t know what to tell you.
Anyhoo, four months later mother and daughter are painting again. Hannah can crack a smile now and she tells Olivia that Sydney moved back to Seattle.
Bruce and Lisa got arrested and incarcerated. The gallery opens and Jack’s work is popular. He is clean-shaven now - he had a beard - and they kiss. The end
Final thoughts: Fatal Deceit is harmless hokum and nowhere near as smart as it would like to be. The acting is good not great and perfectly acceptable for a television movie.
Written by Colin Edward Lawerence and Erin Murphy West and directed by Lawerence, Fatal Deceit is competently directed and Lawerence even employs a bit of flair as he invokes Olivia’s diminishing mental state. The story is built on extremely contrivance and coincidence.
Why Lisa would risk jail time to help Layne is never explained and Bruce’s relationship with him is hastily explained in two lines. Mary being a ‘crazy-black-woman’ was not as offensive as it normally is as the premise for the film is so outlandish that her craziness worked in the context of the film.
The end is so bad it felt as though they were told that hey had to wrap up the film before it hit the ninety-minute mark, the film running at eighty-four minutes.
Not that any of that matters, Fatal Deceit is nonsense and convoluted nonsense at that. Unless you are a fan of television movies, you can and should probably give this one a miss.