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Lifetime Review: 'Picture Perfect Lies'

by Trevor Wells 7 months ago in review

A formulaic but well-structured Lifetime drama about a teenage girl, a killer Sweet 16, and a whole lot of lies.

Rachel Collins (Megan Elizabeth Barker) thought she had a perfect life: a beautiful home, doting parents, and a loving boyfriend. But that all changed on her 16th birthday, with her party ending with Rachel finding her aunt Jenny (Crystal Allen) dead in the pool. Rachel is even more shocked when the death is ruled a homicide, as she can't understand why anyone would want to kill her aunt--or why her parents Angela and Spencer (Laurie Fortier and Matthew Pohlkamp) are acting so strangely in the aftermath.

Determined to get some answers, Rachel begins to look into her aunt's murder and discovers more than a few secrets that turn her world upside down. While her parents offer explanations, Rachel can't shake the feeling that they're lying to her and that her aunt's murder is tied to whatever secret Angela and Spencer are trying to hide. Aided by her best friend Ava (Meg Wright) and her boyfriend Adam (Jamie Roy), Rachel works to uncover the truth. But the answers she's looking for could come at a very steep price...

Upon first reading about Picture Perfect Lies on the Reel One Entertainment website, my imagination was piqued. The idea of a shocking murder leading a teenage girl to unearth alarming truths about her family carries a lot of potential. Sadly, I made the mistake of watching Reel One's spoiler-ridden trailer to find that the truth behind the "dark web of lies" is heavily charted territory for Lifetime. Not that it would've mattered if I hadn't watched, as Lifetime's promos also spoil what Angela and Spencer are lying about. This truth is also alluded to by the midpoint of the film, and that's precisely the moment when most unspoiled viewers are likely to realize the truth on their own. As such, Picture Perfect Lies is a mostly routine Lifetime "mystery" drama. It's through a capable cast and well-balanced action that the film doesn't totally collapse under the weight of its predictability.

As unoriginal as Picture Perfect Lies' mystery is, the film is ambitious in terms of visuals. It's a good thing Lifetime didn't mess with the movie's original title, as there's a photograph motif that appears throughout the film--likely meant to play on the fact that Rachel's photogenic life is nothing but smoke and mirrors. The aesthetics aren't always at their best, though. Instances of bizarre camerawork, overdramatic music, and obvious CGI can be found throughout the movie. Regardless, the recurring photo theme is a nice touch, with the stylish family portrait opening credits sequence being a memorably sleek segue into an attention-grabbing in media res opening.

Structurally, director John Murlowski at least knows how to keep a formulaic movie from becoming insufferable. It doesn't take long after Jenny's murder for Rachel to realize something is off about her parents, and it takes just as little time for Angela and Spencer's lies to begin falling apart. As such, a growing feeling of tension develops as Rachel's trust in her parents is swiftly dashed--and the viewer is left to worry what the elder Collins might do when boxed into a corner by their daughter's suspicions. Two scenes in particular build this tension perfectly as Laurie Fortier and Matthew Pohlkamp dial up the Stepford Smiler vibes Angela and Spencer give off to uncomfortable levels. During these scenes, you'll share in Rachel's visible unease and be thankful when she's finally able to get away from them. Overall, Fortier and Pohlkamp give great portrayals of casually deceptive parents, with the former excelling when Angela lets her unstable side show.

WARNING: Spoilers Below

This growing sense of tension leads to an extended cat-and-mouse game in the third act, with Rachel and Adam working to find Rachel's real parents with Angela and Spencer on their tails. The buildup hits a few dry spots (notably the needlessly long scene of Rachel walking up to Marcy and Ryan Tomlinson in the park) and culminates with an average climax that doesn't hit as hard emotionally as it could've. But it's salvaged to a degree by Fortier's performance as Angela reveals her true form in vicious colors, showing how cold and self-centered she's been in her deranged pursuit of motherhood.

Too bad it's followed up by a frustrating ending narration from Rachel referring to her kidnappers' actions as "human desperation" that they shouldn't be condemned for. It's absolutely insane how Rachel can come to this conclusion after everything Angela and Spencer did in their efforts to keep their false family together--actions which include trying to abduct Rachel at knifepoint, almost killing her best friend and boyfriend, and outright sororicide. Plus, with Angela's backstory revealing that she'd had a controlling streak with Rachel when she was younger, I got the sense that she resorted to kidnapping not out of a desperate desire to be a mother, but a vain desire to have a "perfect daughter" to complete her "perfect life." While I applaud Rachel's decision to take over Angela's charity, I wish her speech had been more about wanting something good to come out of everything that had happened, not minimizing the cruelty of her abductors' actions. Plus, the final line of Rachel's speech was more than a little cringey--made worse by the fact that it's the final line of the film.

(One last note about Angela and Spencer: for people determined to keep their "daughter" from finding out the truth about her life, they do a really bad job of covering their tracks. They don't even try to act upset in the wake of Jenny's death--which puts Rachel on alert pretty fast--and are spectacularly bad at stopping her from finding her birth parents. If they'd been even half as proactive as Rachel, they probably could've captured her before she made it to Echo Lake)

Spoilers Over

While there's a lot of Lifetime-familiar names in Picture Perfect Lies, new-to-the-channel Megan Elizabeth Barker (last seen as a minor character in Deadly Mile High Club) takes center stage as Rachel Collins. Barker has her fair share of shaky moments, a significant one being her awkward emoting when Rachel discovers Jenny's body. Elsewhere, Barker gives a solid performance as Rachel becomes further distrusting of her parents and more lowkey afraid of their increasingly unnerving behavior. Barker plays exceptionally well off Fortier and Pohlkamp to sell that growing tension as well as Rachel's thinly veiled discomfort as her parents begin to go off the deep end. It's far from perfect, but Barker is sure to make you sympathize with Rachel's plight and root for her.

Spending much of the movie at Barker's side is Jamie Roy as Rachel's boyfriend Adam. Giving a lovable performance as the lovably loyal Adam, Roy and Barker share good chemistry as Rachel works with Adam to figure out what's going on. I also liked how, on two occasions, Rachel proves herself to be just as protective of Adam as he is of her. Cindy Shields is similarly sweet as chipper-voiced housekeeper Deysi while Crystal Allen is richly empathetic as the ill-fated Jenny. Through nothing but her body language, Allen lets you see how wracked with guilt Jenny is over the terrible secret she's been left to grapple with. Lastly, Meg Wright makes her Lifetime debut as Rachel's best friend Ava, a character who starts out way too carefree and jokey about her bestie's serious predicament for my taste. Thankfully, something happens to Ava early on that snaps her to reality before she becomes irritating, with Wright giving a likable performance as a zany but supportive gal pal. Unfortunately, there are moments when Ava's temporary irreverence of serious situations rubs off on Rachel a little.

While Picture Perfect Lies certainly doesn't add anything new to the Lifetime-ian template it follows, it at least remains entertaining as its story hits all the expected beats. The plot gets moving pretty quick and doesn't drag its feet, making the routine storyline more bearable since we're not left having to wade through waves of padding. The cast gives it their all, assuring that you root for the heroes and tense up at seeing the villains letting their evil flags fly. The lack of creativity is pretty disappointing after that intrigue-sparking Reel One synopsis and the way the film ends annoys me to no end. But thanks to a capable director and a capable crew of actors, Picture Perfect Lies is still an enjoyable watch--even if it doesn't live up to the adjective in its title.

Score: 6.5 out of 10 blue Sony headphones.


Trevor Wells

Aspiring writer and film blogger: Lifetime, Hallmark, indie, and anything else that strikes my interest. He/him.

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