Since Robert Eggers’ premiere of his directorial debut, The Witch, at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2015, there has been a film each year that has been labeled as “the next great horror film.” When you hear that, your ears immediately perk up, which is then followed by a sense of strong disbelief.
The Witch managed to pull off genuine scares along with a compelling story that follows you home. Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar took the same path. And after last year’s Sundance, The Lodge appears to be next in line.
After its regional premiere at Fantastic Fest in September, that statement isn’t far off. It may not have the same pull or haunting effect, but The Lodge certainly conjures up enough dread to make you feel uneasy. It’s not in-your-face and jumping-out-of-the-shadows kind of horror. Instead, it is the kind that attaches itself like a leech and asks about your relationship with God, how you’re raising your children and the treatment of traumatized individuals. These are questions we often wrestle with, but The Lodge gives you more to think about and fear.
Adding to the many themes from their 2014 feature film debut Goodnight Mommy, filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz fashion a story about a soon-to-be stepmother (an award-worthy Riley Keough) who is trapped inside a remote holiday cabin by a fierce blizzard with her fiance’s two children (Lia McHugh and It‘s Jaeden Martell). Keough’s character, Grace, begins to sense an unseen evil force along with the children, causing The Lodge to play with audiences’ heads as it does theirs.
Like The Witch and Hereditary, The Lodge is a slow burn. It nearly takes 45 minutes before anything remotely terrifying occupies the frame. It takes its sweet time to build compassion for the characters. You understand their dynamics and question their motivations. The ambiguous tone maintains your attention. While it is a languid pace, Fiala and Franz sprinkle breadcrumbs along the trail.
There are many secrets to discover about The Lodge, and they are easy to spoil. But it is the exploration of religious extremism and parental fear that sink the anchor. Without getting into the specifics, the distance between the characters provides a lot of food for thought.
For instance, the relationship between the kids and their future stepmother is more than just silly games akin to The Parent Trap. Similar to Goodnight Mommy, the children suspect Grace is not what their dad (Richard Armitage) thinks she is. The after-effects of their parents’ divorce (Alicia Silverstone portrays the mom) have brought about a lot of distrust. Are the children right to flash their fangs at Grace, or are they blowing it out of proportion? That’s the fun of the film.
Supported by explosive performances, a moody visual aesthetic and exceptionally nuanced storytelling, The Lodge is psychological horror at its peak.
Fiala and Franz take an old-fashioned approach that creeps under the skin as insidiously as evil does with the family. We feel the characters’ terror, desperation and yearnings for truth, and that’s what makes The Lodge such an effective mood piece. Although some reveals may not work for some (the audience could even be ahead of the unveilings), the thematic elements are the ultimate treasure, not the frights.