By Russell Bailey
Having tortured genre fans with “Goodnight Mommy” (2014), Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (this time partnering with screenwriter Sergio Casci) have returned to administer more pain with “The Lodge” (2019). The film focuses in on Aidan and Mia who are dealing with a particularly traumatic divorce and find themselves snowed in in a cabin with their soon-to-be stepmom. From there proceedings go from bad to worse, much much worse.
“The Lodge” has a claustrophobic atmosphere, building a palpable tension that makes much of the second half near unbearable. The film is etched in grief and the trauma of generations’ past, making it one of the most harrowing experiences in recent years. Franz and Fiala take their time, building their film slowly, with time spent crafting a set of characters that while not likely are deep and nuanced.
Lia McHugh (Mia) and Haeden Martell (Aidan) give fascinating turns carrying some challenging content, making them equal parts sympathetic and unreadable. Alicia Silverstone and Richard Armitage take on the role of the divorcing parents, with some stellar work from them in roles that are smaller than you’d expect. But the real stand-out is Riley Keough, who goes through the wringer here as she slowly comes unstuck when confronted with hints of her past. “The Lodge” shares DNA with another film starring Keough, “It Comes At Night” (2017). Her character’s journey is a heart-breaking one and much of the impact here comes from Keough’s outstanding work.
“The Lodge” has a claustrophobic atmosphere, building a palpable tension that makes much of the second half near unbearable. The film is etched in grief and the trauma of generations’ past, making it one of the most harrowing experiences in recent years.”
But there is a quality to “The Lodge” that makes it almost like being embalmed. The film clings to audiences, preventing a single breath from being drawn. The camera prowls the locations, acting as a presence in its own right. It is no surprise that Thimios Bakatakis is often Yorgos Lanthimos’ go-to cinematographer. Sylvian Lemaitre’s production design turns “The Lodge” into a micro-“The Shining” (1980), with the eponymous building a wood-decked, dimly lit icy hell, contrasting with the clinical world separate from it.
The dark depths plummeted here are best left unspoiled. An early moment shocks, hinting at what is to come, with Franz and Fiala showing their claws before hiding them under a suffocating atmosphere. And yet the film hits hard and repeatedly, exhausting audiences in a way that is exhilarating to experience. And yet maybe this is all too much.
“The Lodge” is on no level a fun watch and it is a stretched out one, with the middle at times feeling bloated and slow. But as the final act plays out and the pieces fall into place, the directors’ sleight-of-hand is a majestic one to behold. Franz and Fiala, as with their debut, prove to be one of the most interesting voices in horror cinema today.