There’s so, so much in writer-director pair Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s oppressive chiller The Lodge that recalls Ari Aster’s breakout hit Hereditary that one would be forgiven for initially thinking it was crafted in its shadow. Because it’s not just the shared themes of grief, mental health and familial tension and it’s not just the directorial decision to prioritise an almost suffocating atmosphere of dread over jump scares but there are smaller, more specific elements that are also uncannily similar, giving us an eerie feeling that we’re somehow stuck in the same joyless cinematic universe.
But despite also premiering in a Sundance midnight slot, the similarities are mere coincidence because The Lodge was in pre-production before Hereditary had even been seen. And while comparisons could in theory do more harm than good, for me they worked in its favour because while Hereditary’s lurch from effective, airless family drama to hokey horror dulled its impact, The Lodge’s tighter consistency marks it out as the finer of the pair in many ways, a film that manages to burrow its way under your skin and stay there right through to the horrifying end.
The marketing campaign for the film has been admirably restrained in its unfurling of specific plot details so I’ll also keep them to a minimum. Aidan (It and Knives Out’s Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) are spending Christmas with their journalist father Richard in a remote, snowy lodge accompanied by his new girlfriend Grace (Riley Keough). They’re displeased by her presence not just because she’s the woman who helped to expedite the dissolution of their parents’ marriage but because she harbors a dark past. When Grace was just 12, her cult-leading father engineered a mass suicide, leaving her as the only survivor. With work beckoning, Richard leaves the kids with Grace for two nights, a dynamic that quickly turns from difficult to dangerous.
Stripping away the genre-ness of it all, the knotty scenario at the centre of The Lodge, that of a woman trying to bond with the children of her new boyfriend, is rich with uneasy dramatic tension all by itself. It’s a delicate dance and watching it play out is steadily uncomfortable, providing the film with a substantial foundation as a drama before events start turning more explicitly sinister. Austrian aunt and nephew Franz and Fiala, who broke out with 2014’s Goodnight Mommy and working here with co-writer Sergio Casci, understand the importance of creating and sustaining a mood and they use empty space and darkness horribly well throughout, never submitting to easy shock value. I liked parts of their last film but found the ending to be a letdown with an overused and dated twist taking some of the shine off the slow burn that comes before it.
The Lodge is a far more accomplished beast: poking, prodding and teasing as it throws out potential twists before settling on the most devastating one of all. It’s not an entirely unpredictable revelation but it’s a smart, knowing and nasty way to go, taking the film to a place that’s both staggeringly grim and hopelessly sad. The script has interesting, if rather dour, views on the inescapability of a fate that’s dictated by where we’re from and what’s already inside us and there’s a crushing poignancy to the final act that proves more haunting than any of the film’s nastier moments. The film’s descent into hell isn’t without the odd pothole, however, with some ludicrous shifts and a slippery grasp of logic. The reveal raises so many questions that aren’t fully answered and while its specifics are far different, like Jason Reitman’s Tully, it relies on a father so deeply irresponsible that he becomes an unintentional villain.
There’s also strong work here from Keough, an actor whose ability to give very little away has served her well, most notably in the masterly first season of the creepy escorting drama The Girlfriend Experience. Here that same tightly controlled mystery is effective on a number of levels and her refusal to give into hysteria makes the performance all the more powerful. It’s a bruising movie, being sold on the promise that it’s “scary as hell”, a quote that I worry will mislead expectant horror fans. The scariest thing about The Lodge is how human it all is.
Source: The Guardian