Year:  2021

Director:  Michelle Savill

Rated:  MA

Release:  November 17, 2022

Distributor: Rialto

Running time: 100 minutes

Worth: $16.00
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Ana Scotney, Chris Alosio, Jillian Nguyen, Rachel House, Sam Cotton

… an eccentric and quirky little sojourn …

If the opportunity presented itself, would you be a ghost in your own life? That is the tantalising question put forward in New Zealand writer/director Michelle Savill’s shrewd satire Millie Lies Low, co-written with Eli Kent.

Wellington architecture student Millie (Ana Scotney) appears to be the epitome of a go-getter. Her face is featured in government ads spruiking dreams to young university hopefuls, and she is being lauded in the press after securing a prestigious internship in New York City.

Her dreams of the bigtime are derailed when a panic attack sees her flee her international flight at the last minute. Instead of owning up to her actions or seeking solace, Millie does the inexplicable: she uses technology to pretend that she is stateside, and everything is A-OK. But with limited resources at her disposal, a ticking timeline, and the eyes of the entire community on her, how long can Millie keep up the elaborate ruse?

Michelle Savill uses this beguiling premise to create a canny character study. Millie initially feels shame for her situation, but this is quickly overridden by a bigger fish – her need for validation. Millie finds herself far more preoccupied with creating social media content than a tangible solution to her situation, with each post and deception creating escalating consequences.

At first, Millie’s impulsive, avoidant, and deceptive tendencies almost tilt her into unsympathetic territory – especially as Savill isn’t interested in quick reveals – but the more we follow Millie, the more we understand her and her motivations; Millie has a crippling (and possibly deserved) case of imposter syndrome.

Ostensibly, Millie should have one objective: to get enough money to board a replacement flight to New York; but morbid curiosity soon gets the best of her, and she soon finds herself stalking her friends and family, desperate to discover her true social standing.

Savill crafts Millie’s impulses into an amusing and suspenseful series of sequences, where a (barely) incognito Millie voyeuristically observes those she was meant to leave behind – often with mortifying results. Each revelation spurs Millie on, but the more she indulges her curiosities and suspicions, the closer she hews to being discovered.

Millie’s initial series of setbacks set the film up as a cringe comedy, but Savill slowly creeps up the dial on the intensity – helped by an offbeat, jangling score by Evelyn Morris – and the film eventually takes on the tone of a caper film, albeit one where the loot is self-discovery.

We have recently seen explorations of technology’s effect on self-esteem in Bo Burnham’s brilliant Eighth Grade and Quinn Shephard’s (less brilliant) Not Okay, but while some of the observations are similar – and seemingly universal – in her feature debut, Savill’s quirky comedic sensibility differentiates the film from the pack.

Social media has made it increasingly easy to live a life of embellishments and projections, and Savill’s script astutely captures the alluring pull of online validation. Helping Savill hit the satirical bullseye is performer Ana Scotney’s astute performance as Millie. Millie prioritises her online well-being over her corporeal needs to a disturbing degree; but Scotney (Cousins) makes us believe in these choices. Millie craves the nourishment of recognition, even if it comes from superficial sources. Savill knows that self-deception is the worst lie of all, and she utilises Scotney to wring genuine emotion out of Millie’s gradual and profound realisations.

Millie Lies Low is an eccentric and quirky little sojourn, but one ultimately worth taking, especially for Scotney’s endearing turn and Savill’s poignant observations on self-esteem and the strange games we play to find it.