‘Bag of Lies’ Review: An Effectively Unsettling Supernatural Drama

Bag of Lies builds its horror through well-crafted scares and great performances from its leads.

Bag of Lies (2024) is now streaming on VOD sites including Amazon and Fandango at Home.

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What is Bag of Lies About?

Patrick Taft as Matt in Bag of Lies (2024).
The star of Bag of Lies, Patrick Taft, also appeared in a supporting role in the short film that inspired the feature-length movie.

Bag of Lies is one of two bag-based horror movies that began streaming in the United States in the first week of April 2024 (the other is Baghead). And frankly, it’s the more satisfying of the two. Bag of Lies was written and directed by David Andrew James, based on a story by Nick Laughlin and Joe Zappa. The feature was inspired by a short film of the same name that Nick Laughlin wrote and directed, which David Andrew James starred in.

Bag of Lies stars Brandi Botkin as Claire, a woman suffering from an advanced stage of cancer, and Patrick Taft as Matt, Claire’s husband. Matt is not dealing with his wife’s illness in the healthiest of ways. In desperation, he makes a deal with a stranger to acquire a large bag containing mysterious contents. The bag is needed for a ritual that is said to have the power to heal, but the dark ritual comes with strict rules. After stating your wish, leave the bag and its contents alone for three days. Don’t look at it, don’t speak to it, and don’t touch it.

The bag from Bag of Lies (2024).
What’s in the bag? Good question.

After performing the required dark magic, Matt begins having increasingly unsettling experiences. Are these events part of the price that the bag requires to fulfill Matt’s desire? Did he break the bag’s rules without realizing it? Or is Matt’s mind buckling under the stress of the situation? Or maybe all of the above? Bag of Lies explores these ideas in a psychological and supernatural horror movie that mixes in a cursed-object style of plot line.

Bag of Lies Review

Brandi Botkin as Claire in Bag of Lies (2024).
Claire is the character who engenders the most sympathy, but she is also a character who would rather have understanding more than sympathy.

When Bag of Lies got underway, I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy following Matt’s perspective rather than Claire’s. Claire is the person who is sick, and Matt immediately comes across as well-meaning yet a little too inside his own head. From the early scenes you can tell Matt cares deeply for Claire, but he’s not always listening to her wants and needs. We can tell that Claire is in pain, but we also see that she keeps things from Matt because she knows he will disapprove. It’s not that Matt is trying to be controlling, it’s just that he wants to “fix” what’s wrong and can’t see past that. He can’t see that Claire is on a different path of accepting what is happening to her, and his actions are causing her more stress in what are likely some of her final days.

Matt pours a vial of blood in Bag of Lies (2024).
Matt makes mistakes, but they are mistakes that are completely in character.

So, I wasn’t initially sold on the idea of spending an hour and a half with a guy I was going to disagree with all the time. But then, about ten minutes into the movie, there is a scene where Matt listens to music Claire wrote, and he completely fails to understand what she was trying to convey. It is a scene that says so much about both characters, and really, it says a lot about the movie and its themes as a whole. It is extremely well done, and from that point on I was completely on board with Matt as our very flawed yet entirely relatable protagonist. I might not like everything he does, but Matt is the right choice for the lead in the story Bag of Lies tells.

Matt and Claire hesitate before a kiss in Bag of Lies (2024).
The strained relationship between Matt and Claire is at the heart of Bag of Lies.

A big reason why Matt works as the main character is thanks to the performance of Patrick Taft. The character could easily come across as completely unlikable, but Patrick plays the role in a way that keeps him sympathetic even when he’s at his worst. Matt is scared and angry, but he’s also trying to be supportive. It’s a role that requires nuance and subtlety, and Patrick Taft pulls it off wonderfully. He makes Matt feel human, even among all the supernatural spookiness going on around him.

Claire is tired in Bag of Lies (2024).
Claire knows what she wants, but she also knows not everyone, not even her husband, will understand her decisions.

Not to be outdone, Brandi Botkin is a great counterpart in her role as Claire. She has good chemistry with Patrick’s Matt, which is impressive since we see the characters in a place where they are much more emotionally distant than they used to be. Brandi portrays Claire as accepting of her prognosis. She isn’t necessarily sad, but she is frustrated that she isn’t being fully heard by her husband. The biggest compliment about both Patrick Taft and Brandi Botkin is that they make us want Matt and Claire to both be okay, even though we know things are unlikely to turn out well for either of them. In that way, Bag of Lies is a lot like a tragedy.

A dark presence in Bag of Lies (2024).
The creepiness in Bag of Lies is simply and effectively done.

Of course, Bag of Lies is also a horror movie. The drama between its two lead characters helps support a series of surprisingly creepy events that build up to a chilling climax. The premise of a black-magic ritual involving a bag seems odd at first, if only because the mystery of it is left to simmer until later in the film. But the things Matt begins seeing and hearing around his and Claire’s home are insidious in their ability to frighten. They’re simply done, but they’re done very well. They’re a testament to what dramatic tension, an effective music cue, and the right context can do to produce a good scare. In some ways I was reminded of The Haunting (1963) in the way it produces effective scares without actually showing much of anything. You do see more in Bag of Lies than in The Haunting, but the philosophy of fright feels similar.

Matt is scared in a kitchen in Bag of Lies (2024).
Appropriately frightened reaction shots go a long way in making subtle scares work for an audience.

If there’s one thing I didn’t enjoy as much as the rest of the movie, it has to do with exploring more about the eponymous bag of lies itself. As Matt gets more freaked out by the strange events he’s experiencing, he tries to learn more about the bag and what it is. The movie takes a brief detour into a sequence involving research and a trip to find someone who has answers. It’s the kind of sequence seen in countless other movies involving a cursed object or some kind of supernatural mystery. Taking Matt out of the house for about fifteen minutes releases some of the tension built up by having Matt and Claire feel trapped together in their home, and learning more about the bag removes a bit of its mystique. The movie still works well, but sometimes more ambiguity is scarier, and this feels like one of those times.

Despite the short detour though, Bag of Lies never truly lost me. The final act takes some interesting turns, and the ending is satisfying in a way that feels true to the movie’s themes. Overall, Bag of Lies is a standout independent film that deserves your attention.

Who Will Enjoy Bag of Lies?

Matt looks at Claire in Bag of Lies (2024).
Even if you’re not into horror as much, you could enjoy Bag of Lies for the drama between Matt and Claire.

Bag of Lies is highly recommended for fans of dramatic horror featuring supernatural and psychological themes. It’s not too scary in the sense of overwhelming fear or jump scares (although there are a few jump scares which are well done). It’s more for people who enjoy movies with a growing sense of dread.

Bag of Lies is streaming now for rental and purchase on VOD sites including Amazon Prime Video. It is also available for pre-order on Blu-ray which will be released on July 11th, 2024.

Further Reading

Meet The Author

Chris has a degree in film studies at Temple University’s campus in Tokyo, Japan. He is a renowned expert on horror cinema.