Bag of Lies (2024)


Bag of Lies Review

The intersection of personal loss and supernatural terror is a tricky one to navigate in filmmaking. The tragic elements must be sufficiently emotionally impactful so that the viewer cares about the characters’ experience, but the narrative can’t be too maudlin or dire lest the audience–who came here for creepiness–become distracted when the scary stuff starts to happen.

Bag of Lies navigates this narrative challenge better than many recent films, and creates a genuine sense of looming tragedy while deftly interweaving the supernatural and horrific elements. Faced with no medical path forward, a young husband turns to a mysterious artifact and esoteric ritual to cure his wife’s aggressive bone cancer. The item itself is a heavy black bag, and it comes with strict post-ritual instructions: it must be isolated, locked in a room and not seen, touched, or spoken to.

It’s a cheeky setup. The husband, Matt (Patrick Taft) receives the mysterious bag from a dude in a bar and follows the associated instructions, pouring his wife’s blood into the opening before shutting it in a closet for three full days while he waits for a miracle. Pretty easy right? Should be no big deal so long as you don’t forget your car keys or something more important with the bag. Even then, surely you can wait three days for the sake of curing incurable cancer? Despite the locked door, ample warnings, and relatively minimal inconvenience of the post-ritual instructions, you know someone is going to bone this up.

And sure enough, someone does. Only the ritual nonetheless appears to be working: Claire (Brandi Botkin) starts getting better, and while her husband experiences the occasional lucid dream or auditory hallucination–many of which are focused on the locked-away bag–it’s a small price to pay.

Bag of Tricks
Bag of Lies is a distinctly modern horror movie–it has a simple set of rules that translate well to a trailer, and doesn’t spend screen time on the history of the object that causes all of this: It’s a bag, you pour blood in it, ask it for something, then lock it away and ignore it for a weekend until it does what you asked it so. Easy. Audiences understand it, and when the rules are broken, recognize that all bets are off and the creator can act with impunity about what comes next because the the supernatural object is virtually provenance-free. That’s how you make an indie horror film in 2024, folks; it worked with Talk to Me, it worked with Smile, so it can work here.

While the approach sounds thin when spelled out, it’s effective enough for a popcorn horror film, and while most movies following this formula subsequently sandblast audiences with low-rent CGI effects, Bag of Lies sticks to mostly practical horrors and pulls off their execution pretty well. Matt experiences an increasingly disturbing set of events, from phantom screams to seeing full-blown and seemingly corporeal people manifest in his living space. This carries on until the film’s conclusion which I’m not going to spoil.

Follow the Thread
Performances in Bag of Lies are decisively okay, unremarkable and a touch stiff among the supporting cast, but a notch better for our star couple, with Brandi Botkin deserving unqualified praise and Patrick Taft doing an wholly convincing job of being the conflicted, grieving husband. That said, you’re not going to remember the acting in this movie, which on the whole is politely adequate. Few comments could be more illustrative of this than the fact that I’m going to end the paragraph here.

The script is a touch muddled. While the first half hangs together pretty coherently and there’s a few genuinely creepy moments, it does go slightly off the rails as the scary stuff spirals outward, taking on a manic tone where a series of familiar horror movie setpieces can play off one after another in pretty much any order without conceivable impact on the quality of the film overall. Emotionally, it’s a focused film, staying tight to Matt and his increasing sense of isolation which does feel unblinkingly effective: we feel Matt’s pain, we balance it against his shock at the spooky stuff happening around him, and we tuck in for the predictable–and passable–ride to come.

By the latter half, I really wish it had more foundational material. The hallucinations Matt experiences aren’t ineffective or uninteresting, but they do lack coherent escalation, playing out like a series of semi-scary happenings and not-happenings that manically cycle through tangential elements until the audience’s interest starts to wane. You can only see so many clawed hands, so many made-you-look healthy Claire hallucinations, so many out-of-place dark shapes before you start wondering how the next scene can be better than the one that preceded it. Bag of Lies willingly falls into the trap that viewers can never trust what the character is seeing or hearing, so after having the rug pulled half a dozen times over the course of an hour, they just stop caring.

Final Thoughts
At the top of this review, I touched on the challenge of presenting personal loss as deepening element of supernatural horror. Bag of Lies succeeds on both counts, presenting a genuinely touching story of a young husband and wife destined to have their time cut short. It also manages to be a bit creepy, presenting the occasional solid scare and some honest dread. Both of these things are accomplishments, and hint that writer/director David Andrew James likely has the potential to make a better film on his next time out. Unfortunately, these strong elements are overwhelmed by a multitude of decidedly lesser ones, and while the film performs well in moments, it isn’t able to get any narrative traction to keep audiences engaged between them.

Watch Bag of Lies For Free On Gomovies.

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