Call me crazy if you will, but there’s no better setting in my mind for horror than a bleak, winter landscape. Cold. Isolated. And a great way to highlight blood when spilled onto the snow, it’s the perfect atmosphere for biting dread and extreme paranoia. Enter The Lodge, having played at Beyond Fest this past weekend, a tragic horror flick I feel totally comfortable in already declaring this year’s Hereditary…
…If you saw Goodnight Mommy, then you know that the writing/directing team of Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz are adept at knowing how to fuck you up. But guess what? That film was just the appetizer to the ice-cold feast of paranoia that is The Lodge. With additional writing by Sergio Casci, The Lodge revolves around a family attempting to move on from the untimely death of their mother (Alicia Silverstone). Wanting his kids to get to know their future stepmom, Grace (Riley Keough), Richard (Richard Armitage) brings them all up to a cabin in the middle of nowhere for Christmas before leaving on a business trip, promising he’ll be back for the holiday. Just one problem. Richard’s kids, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) don’t trust Grace, nor does she them. A highly problematic combination for when a storm hits and knocks the power out, leaving them trapped for days with their own mistrust, and a possible ghost or two.
Losing a parent or watching your parents split up sucks. I’ve experienced both. And as a child of those things, let me tell you, the filmmakers nailed the sense of hatred that most kids feel towards any step-parent attempting to break into their comfortable bubble at first. Grace is a new person entering Aidan and Mia’s lives. A woman who they believe is in some way responsible for their mother’s death. And a person who has her own dark history, having escaped from a suicide cult when she was a kid. So yeah, not exactly the most merry of situations when Richard tries to force them to get to know each other. Now imagine how you would feel if you were trapped in that situation with no food, water, or the calming middle ground of Richard, and you can begin to get an idea for why The Lodge is so goddamn tense.
From minute one, Aidan and Mia hate Grace, and bless her, Grace is doing everything she can to get them to like her, expressed brilliantly through Keough. Every time the kids yell at her for accidentally wearing their mother’s hat, or tell her she isn’t worth talking to, I could feel the sting of her pain to the point where I regretted any time I’d ever said something like that to my own step-prarents. This is a rough film emotionally, and every single cast member manages to deliver at least one heartbreaking moment. In stories like this, we’re generally on the side of one person or the other, but the script in this case allows us to connect with each of these people, no matter how shitty they are at times, and I found myself sympathizing for every one of them. Side note: Silverstone may only appear briefly in this, but damnit if it isn’t one of the most shocking performances of her career.
Like Hereditary, this is a film steeped in cold dread, and the only warmth you’ll ever get out of it is from your own trembling. There are no “sweet” moments in The Lodge. This is not the sort of film that allows the audience any relief from tension as tight as a crocodile’s jaws. Once Richard leaves, The Lodge becomes a psychological standoff between Grace and the kids. After a night lost to passing out by the warm glow of a lantern, the three wake up to discover that all of the food and personal belongings, including Grace’s meds, have been taken. Are the kids the ones who stole everything, or was it Grace, who the kids claim walks around at night in her sleep, and who has begun seeing visions of the dead cult that never claimed her, or was it something else? The filmmakers do a masterful job of keeping the audience in the dark, with nothing but a soft candle to light the way.
The Lodge isn’t a film for anyone hoping for some cheap ghost story with shit popping out at you so you can cuddle your date in the hopes of a quick fear fuck in the car. This movie is pure, unfiltered, paranoid torment. You don’t simply watch The Lodge. You buckle up for this ice-cold, slow-burn nightmare and let it drag you down deep into the worst parts of human psychology. The wonderfully claustrophobic cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis works to instill in the viewer the same paranoia which these characters are feeling, making for the ultimate uncomfortable experience. There are many layers to this film, and as each is pulled back like some crusty, frozen onion, the horror of the situation grows.
This is by far one of the most tragic, heartbreaking horror films of the year (in a year where there have been many). The Lodge is psychological cruelty, both on the characters and the viewers, to a degree where there will be those who are legitimately angry over what is transpiring on screen. A lot of you might have missed Goodnight Mommy, but hopefully audiences will finally take notice of Fiala and Franz with The Lodge, a film which is sure to be one of the top “feel bad films of the year”.
The Lodge haunts theaters on November 15th from Neon.
By Matt Konopka