Co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz deliver one of horror’s hardest gut punches of the year with The Lodge, a chilling tale of a suicide cult survivor and her attempt to bond with the children of her boyfriend. Some viewers considered Fiala’s and Franz’s Goodnight Mommy to be cold and distant, but their latest effort is unequivocally visceral.
This Hammer Films effort begins with mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone) dropping her teenage son Aiden (Jaeden Lieberher, It and It: Chapter Two), and younger daughter Mia (Lia McHugh, Along Came the Devil) off at their father Richard’s (Richard Armitage) house. His current romantic interest, Grace, wanders inside and around the home like a shadowy, ghostly figure at first. After some scenes that hint at how dark The Lodge might get, Richard unwisely insists that the youngsters spend Christmas with him and Grace at a remote cabin. As the father and children prepare for the car trip to the snowy location, viewers finally see Grace (Riley Keough, It Comes at Night and Under the Silver Lake). She is optimistic about forming a closer relationship with Aiden and Mia, but the children do their best to keep her alienated.
When Richard is called back to work for a few days, a snowstorm blows in and bizarre events begin happening. Fiala and Franz do a masterful job of keeping viewers guessing about many things; for example, how sane or fragile Grace might be after growing up with a charismatic cult leader father who killed himself in a ritual suicide with all of the cult members except her, what the sources of ever-increasing mysterious circumstances inside and around the rented lodge might be, and whether the supernatural or some other sinister force might be at play. The tension is practically unbearable at times.
The cast is superb, with Keough giving an outstanding performance of a young woman trying to cope with becoming a stepmother to two children who make no secrets about hating her, and who finds herself baffled, frustrated, and scared as the trio’s isolation grows ever more nerve-wracking. She gives a star-making performance here, showing why she is quickly becoming a genre-film favorite. Lieberher and McHugh perfectly portray two youngsters grieving for their mother and nowhere near ready for their father forcing on them a new relationship with a stranger they neither trust nor like.
The Lodge looks gorgeous, with top-notch cinematography from Thimios Bakatakis (The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster) taking advantage of the snowy landscape, highlighting the bleak isolation of the trio and their holiday dwelling, and giving a claustrophobic feeling that heightens the dread that pervades the lodge.
The Lodge is the type of horror film that frays your nerves and wears you down slowly, rather than counting on gory shocks or jump scares. There’s plenty on hand here to unnerve, and the movie delivers what I consider to be the most harrowing ending in a fright film since Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. Like that film, The Lodge will weigh heavy on your mind long after viewing it.
The Lodge screened at South Korea’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival [BIFAN], which ran June 27–July 7, 2019.(4.5 / 5)