Imagine being faced with a decision that could drastically alter the path of your child’s life. That’s what parents Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) and Rebecca (Mireille Enos) have to deal with when their daughter, Kayla (Joey King) tells them that’s she’s killed her best friend Britney in upcoming film, The Lie.
No-one saw the incident, no-one knows the two girls were even together that day – should Jay and Rebecca just pretend that the incident never happened?
Based on the German film We Monsters, directed by Sebastian Ko, The Lie certainly throws up some big questions; just what would you do for your child? How far will your parental love and morality go? “I knew immediately that this was a story that I felt in my heart as a parent fascinated by the notion of how deep and thick and powerful the love of a child is,” says The Lie writer and director Veena Sud. “What I would do, you know, what anybody would do, if my child committed a crime? Ultimately it’s a family drama about being in the worst case scenario you could ever imagine yourself in as a parent.”
The Lie differs from Ko’s film in a number of ways, most notably with Britney being played by Mohawk actress Devery Jacob. “I was really interested in the notion of race,” Sud explains, “how a victim of a crime then becomes the perceived perpetrator.” In fact, the police don’t take Britney’s disappearance seriously until Jay and Rebecca visit the police to put the limelight of guilt on Britney’s dad. “In America, because of race, what child matters and what child doesn’t matter? All those themes were central in The Lie and what drove me in my version of the story.”
The Lie is part of Welcome To The Blumhouse; four films under the Blumhouse roof along with Amazon Studios, and when Sud became part of that juggernaut, there was no stopping it: “[Producer] Alix Madigan and I wanted to make [the film] together,” she says “I was also doing a TV show at the time so I didn’t have a tonne of time to devote to the project [but] by the time my show was done shooting, I did have a draft and I think it was six or seven months before I had to go back and do another show. So [I was like] ‘let’s get this done because I’m dying to do this film’.
“Within I think a day or two, Jason [Blum] called and he and I met, literally on his way to the airport. He’s going out of the country, and so I was just like ‘we have to talk now’. There’s no waiting on this. He said “I love your version [of the film] and I love your work, let’s do this together”. I said, hell yeah, let’s do it! I literally think it was two months later I was in Prague [shooting the movie]. It was so fast. I know I will never get that again I mean, that’s Jason for you, right? You make things!”
With a body of work including gripping TV shows The Killing and The Stranger, Sud is a pro at getting under the skin of audiences, and she couldn’t wait to do the same with The Lie. “What appealed to me was the idea of the terrible things that we do in the name of love,” Sud tells us. “We think and believe with 100% certainty that we are good people and moral people. And then when the shit hits the fan, what would we really do?”
Played by Joey King (The Conjuring, Independence Day: Resurgence), Kayla is the child at the centre of this dilemma and comes with a bunch of questions of her own. Did she kill Britney on purpose? Or is she a victim herself?
“My first thought was, ‘oh man, this poor girl has gotten herself really wrapped up in something bad’, but when I first read [the script] I was ‘God, she’s such a fucking monster! Why is she acting like this. Oh my God…’” says King when we speak to her about Kayla. “I wanted the audience to feel like they had the rug pulled out from under them. I wanted to let her remain a character that deserves empathy throughout but not too much to the point where you’re on her side for killing her best friend. I was trying to figure out with Veena, who I love so much, how to incorporate empathy but also really play into the idea the audience has that she is this monster.”
Kayla’s parents are recently divorced and the whole family are still adjusting to the different dynamics that divorce brings; Rebecca and Jay are in new relationships and are navigating shared custody of Kayla. While Kayla is still struggling with the fact that her parents have broken up.
“I think that within her parents’ divorce, her parents are hiding so much from her; trying to not expose her to anything that’s going on,” King continues, “but in that, they become so distant from her.”
On that fateful day, Jay is taking Kayla to a dance retreat when they come across Britney waiting for the bus. After picking her up, Kayla and Britney head off on a bathroom break in the woods. When Kayla returns alone, explaining that she’s pushed her best friend from a bridge, she carries on as normal, seemingly not realising what she’s done. Is Kayla a psychopath? Or can she not understand the ramifications of what she’s done?
“She’s seeking attention from her parents, even if it’s in a negative form,” King says. “So when the core problem arises, instead of being honest about it from the get-go she probably is enjoying the fact that her parents are really paying attention to her in a way that they haven’t in so long.”
Kayla isn’t the only one still reeling from the divorce, Rebecca is still grappling with the fact that her marriage has broken down, moving into a house that’s largely made of glass and creating a household environment that is anything but warm and inviting. In fact, the only thing colder than the snow-covered ground outside is the atmosphere in the family house. “Here’s a woman who has lived with so much heartbreaking chaos with a man that did not live up to what she imagined their marriage might be,” Sud explains. “He was alone a lot and taking care of business. So now that she has full run of her world, the cleanliness, sterility, the lines – that’s [the] order she so craves.”
This cold, stark feel has remnants of another film that deals with the complexities of a parental relationship: “This all coalesced with Let The Right One In, the Swedish vampire film, because the subtlety by which the human loneliness of that film came through and the way, visually, snow played in that film was an influence,” Sud tells us. “My DP, Peter Wunstorf, my production designer, Elisa Sauve, and I talked a lot about the colour palette – the white-on-white. What type of brightness is created in terms of what we see? What don’t we want to see? The quiet that descends because of the snow and the house of glass; looking out into a world that’s looking in, so things kind of came together visually.”
The glasshouse is a great tool when creating a tense thriller and Sud certainly ensured she used it to its fullest… “It’s a psychological drama and thriller. It’s the Hitchcockian elements of the dread outside the door. You know the lurking shadow outside of the glasshouse are fun and subtle genre elements that I wove throughout [the film].”
As with any good thriller, you can also expect The Lie to throw up a few unexpected elements: “I remember when I read [The Lie] for the first time I shut my laptop closed and gasped: “What! Oh my God!” laughs King. “It is just quite a story and it was really, really fun to tackle. It’s so disorienting. What really jumped out at me was just the story overall, I loved having the rug pulled out from under you and it feels super crazy when you don’t expect what’s happening!”
Speaking of the unexpected, Rebecca and Jay are forced to go down a sinister path when they deny to the police that Kayla saw Britney on the day she disappears, sparking off an unforeseen series of events that see them faced with more than a few difficult decisions.
“The Lie is inhabiting the space where you’re making decisions to do things that none of us would imagine while, you know, you’re getting your Starbucks coffee!” Sud laughs. “I think in a moral play like this one it is so difficult to imagine inhabiting [that place]. There is the pain of what you would do and then there is the push back against what these parents are doing. None of us ever, ever, ever want to see ourselves in a situation like this. Nothing that anybody does will be good enough. [What] if the parents picked up the phone [to the police] and said ‘hey guess what this happened…’ and the kid goes to jail and then, you know, three days later, she hangs herself. That would be a whole other story of recriminations against the parents.”
Indeed, though the characters in The Lie make questionable moral decisions, it doesn’t make it any less real and confronting the ideas of what one would actually do if you look deep deep down is a question that Sud relished: “I’ve written a lot of crime before and I know the human defenses against ever wanting to think something terrible could happen to us. I did not expect people to be necessarily crying for Rebecca and Jay but the number one thing I hope the audience walks away with is the truth of or even the honest question to themselves of what would you do in this situation?
“When I was writing it, I was trying to hide away. I mean, I literally had to force myself to not leave the house for a week so I could confront that demon because it’s almost impossible to think of yourself as an immoral person that would do these terrible things!”
“The film is a mixture of confusion, thrill and just pure devastation,” King agrees. “It’s every parents’ worst nightmare. How far would you go for the ones that you love? I think that that is a huge thing to take away from this film, like, holy shit, can you imagine?!”
The Lie is available on Amazon Prime Video now.