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  • Rev Horror

The Lie: The Murder of Grace Millane

Dir. Helena Coan (2023)

A Sky Original documentary discusses the 2018 murder of a woman traveling by herself through New Zealand.

I've always considered myself a feminist. Those who know me, I'll wait for you to stop laughing before I continue. There's no valid argument that women have it as easy as men, and while men certainly have their fair share of problems in dealing with the world, women's number one problem tends to be men. In a world that is already exceptionally dangerous, with seemingly everything in life just ready to take you out at a moment's notice, it's a goddamned shame that, in 2024, women still have to be afraid of men. Women still need to contact their girlfriends to tell them where they're going on a date, they still have to carry their car keys jammed between their fingers as an impromptu ninja sai, and their self-defense classes still primarily consist of a kick to the instep and a knee to the groin. And, despite decades of teaching and training and funding and focus on violence against women, we still have to cover stories like the one that rests at the center of The Lie: The Murder of Grace Millane.

Grace Millane was an English woman who went abroad on her gap year, traveling alone to new and exciting places around the world as she prepared to start her life. When she reached New Zealand, however, the fun ended, as her life was tragically ended by giant piece of shit Jesse Shane Kempson, an out of work loser who joined her on a Tinder date that would be the last time anyone saw her alive. The Lie tells the story of her disappearance and eventual discovery, all the way through Kempson's arrest and trial, in an exhaustive telling of yet another appalling story of sexual violence and murder. The film also briefly discusses domestic violence in general, speaking out against the frequency of these events even in an apparently safe country like New Zealand.

Domestic and dating violence are difficult subjects to really parse because they're not topics of which anyone in their right mind would ever say that they're in favor, yet the numbers are still as staggering as ever. While The Lie is not about DV in particular, focusing far more of its runtime (obviously) on the case itself rather than the overarching theme of intimate partner violence, it does still touch on the subject as it delves into Kempson's past and the epidemic of DV in New Zealand as a whole. Grace's story is harrowing enough as-is, and the thought that a woman's life could end after simply choosing to go out for a night of fun is disturbing and heartbreaking. And yet, this is something every woman is, somewhere inside, terrified that they will have to face.

The doc itself is fantastic, delivering not only a gripping retelling of the story but also well-researched and sourced depiction of the case from beginning to end. The trickling of information throughout is done in a way that maximizes entertainment, but it also never shies away from its purpose of informing of and rebuking for the country's crimes. It's a fantastic watch, and while it would be easy to say that everyone is aware of the problem of domestic and dating violence by now, every little bit of awareness helps. Maybe, eventually, we can end this experience for women. Probably not. But, if we're ever going to come close, it's going to be through the telling and retelling of these women's stories, and The Lie does this in a compelling way.

To digress for a minute: the cross-section between horror and true crime fans is pretty extensive. It's sort of an SAT question of American media: Most horror fans are true crime fans, but most true crime fans are not horror fans. All blurbs are blats, you know the deal. The one-way relationship is, perhaps, because true crime has become nearly ubiquitous in American culture, with pretty much any random person you stop on the street willing to tell you about their favorite true crime podcast that they just can't get enough of, while only the dark gothy kids are happy to talk about the latest in gory, disgusting horror. It makes sense to a certain extent, however: it's easy to find the emotional crossover between true crime and reality tv, but it's just as easy to make the argument that true crime is far more horrific than any subject tackled by Carpenter or Craven. It's the circle of judgment, with "normies" side-eying anyone whose favorite movie stars a serial killer while anyone with half a brain can see that falling asleep to Snapped is not a whole lot better than munching popcorn to Poltergeist.

Nevertheless, the focus of this documentary is not on true crime, or on horror, or on any entertainment at all. This is the story of a beautiful young woman with the world at her feet, a life of promise brought to an end by an evil man who placed no value on her life beyond his pleasure. It's tragic, to be sure, but it's also promising: the documentary talks at the end about the "rough sex" legal defense, and it gives some staggering statistics about how often it has been used (and how often it has worked). I give huge credit to director Helena Coan for shedding light on this bizarre legal conundrum, and I was left shaking my head in disgust at the scrolling list of dead women whose killers have used this defense. It's something I had never considered and certainly wouldn't have expected it to be this common, and as awareness really is one of the best defenses against something like DV, it's always good to have more in the world to point out our legal system's shortcomings when it comes to taking care of women.

Who this movie is for: True crime documentary fans, Domestic violence advocates, Men who need to get their shit together

Bottom line: Grace Millane's story is tragic and well-told in this gripping documentary about a murder victim and her legacy. Director Helena Coan has put together a fantastic doc that stands up to some of the better in the true crime genre, and it's does a great job of telling the entire story from beginning to end. If you're a fan of true crime in general, or if you're someone who wants to educate themselves a little more about the prevalence and circumstances of domestic violence against women, I definitely recommend checking the documentary out. It's On Demand an in select theaters starting today.

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