Despite the unusual virus-related circumstances with theater closings and various movie productions halting, there has been no shortage of new horror films in 2020. “The Lodge” actually debuted at Sundance last year but finally premiered in select theaters earlier this year just prior to COVID-19 outbreak. Now it’s available to watch at home and it’s certainly worth a visit.
“The Lodge” is the English-language debut from the Austrian filmmaking duo of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. The aunt and nephew team not only direct but co-wrote the script along with Sergio Casci. Together they craft a monster-less chiller set within a complicated family framework where there are no clear-cut villains. It’s driven by flawed, hurting characters whose actions aren’t strictly black or white, good or evil. It’s also an unnerving dive into psychological horror that will have you glued to the screen and on the edge of your seat.
If there are two tropes modern horror movies relish it’s creepy children and remote cabins in the woods.￼ “The Lodge” uses both (to a measured degree) but hardly in the conventional sense. Teenaged Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and his younger sister Mia (Lia McHugh) have been devastated by the sudden death of their mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone). Separated from their mother at the time, the children’s father Richard (Richard Armitage) is set to marry again six months after Laura’s death.
Richard’s well-meaning fiancé Grace (Riley Keough) hopes to break the ice with the kids via a snowy Christmas-time retreat to the family’s remote lakeside lodge. Aiden and Mia want no part of it, still aching over their mother’s passing and seeing any show of affection towards Grace as a betrayal. They dig into Grace’s past, discovering she was the lone survivor of a pseudo-Christian suicide cult. That only adds to their apprehension and displeasure.
Of course they end up going to the lodge and things are pretty icy. It only gets worse when Richard has to drive back to the city for a couple of days leaving Grace and the children behind. After coming to a head, the needling and contention shows signs of dying down. But then they wake up to a power outage. There’s no food, no running water. Also all of their clothes, luggage, Christmas decorations – everything is gone. Even weirder, Grace discovers all the clocks are suddenly set to January 9th.
From there things grow more unsettling as a dark psychological tension takes a grip. We begin questioning much of what we see and the characters become harder to read. Franz and Fiala make great use of their setting, shooting on location rather than in a studio.￼ You’ve heard this before, but the house truly is a character, in this case representing the looming, watchful presence of the children’s mother. She’s in the family photographs, the Christmas decorations, and more specifically a painting of a saintly woman.
Other touches work well to groom the ever-present sense of unease. Frequent cuts to Mia’s realistic dollhouse bring thoughts of “Hereditary” but here it adds its own spooky layer to the story. Also Franz and Fiala are far more interested in atmosphere and mood than cheap jump scares. And they show the effectiveness of silence, using minimal music that gets under your skin rather than dictate your emotions.
The performances are rock-solid especially from Riley Keough who digs deep into her character’s damaged psyche without ever overplaying the inner-turmoil. She fits well into this unique slice of horror that brings a crafty European sensibility to a genre that far too often tends to repeat itself. Certain elements of the story are certain to ring familiar, but as a whole the movie carves out a smart and entrancing path of its own.
VERDICT – 4 STARS