The Lodge is a methodically insidious and outstandingly tense entry into the “Christmas Horror” canon. Trust me. I’ve watched almost 120 Xmas slashers, spectral haunts, and holiday nightmares. Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz follow their suffocatingly dreadful Goodnight Mommy with a tragic story of separation, loss, and vulnerable kids forced to cope with the unthinkable. Sadistic psychological horror accented by gunshot blasts and dollhouse crime scenes, increasing tension in prolonged still moments radiate nothing but ill-intent. Oh holy fright, these scares are brutally sinful…
Richard (Richard Armitage) is a father tasked with restoring his family’s stability after leaving ex-wife Laura (Alicia Silverstone). With Christmas Eve approaching, he suggests to son Aidan (Jaeden Lieberher) and daughter Mia (Lia McHugh) another celebratory stay in their secluded vacation lodge – with an added guest. To strengthen the relationship between kin and future second wife, Grace (Riley Keough) tags along. Richard’s work requires him to stay back until Christmas, leaving Aidan, Mia, and Grace to bond uninhibited despite Aidan’s vehement protest and Grace’s unsettling history of being the lone survivor of a satanic cult.
Neon snagged distribution rights for The Lodge out of Sundance and set release for this fall (no date yet). As we do around these parts, here are three frost-covered reasons to weather this relentless trauma-heavy blizzard.
1. Dread And Instability Of The Highest Order
Hell comes to Richard’s cozy wooden abode and kicks the door down while he’s blissfully unaware. Fiala and Franz’s approach to horror requires nothing more than human characters acting on their nastiest urges. Aidan and Mia blame Grace for their mother’s removal from parental pictures, making it clear they hold no compassion for their father’s new flame. From frame one, there’s zero mincing words. Aidan and Grace are not destined for friendship. Motivated by bottomless levels of grief, the kids are at their best as Grace slowly devolves into her worst.
As nights pass, mysteries pile higher than fresh roadside snowplow banks. Grace awakens in random locations (standing bedside Paranormal Activity style or laying down), memories of her father’s repetition of “Repent!” ringing in her ears; a regression to the child discovered at the scene of a mass cult suicide. Aidan and Mia hear their increasingly disturbed future stepmother stirring about during midnight hours, pointing blame when personal objects go missing with no signs of a break-in. In this vein, The Lodge continuously pushes characters to dangerous brinks with rabid intensity. A hangman’s noose, a loaded revolver, a saint’s painting – weapons of the unhinged that assure only the highest order of teeth-clenched dread as you realize just how sinister a film you’re watching.
2. Riley Keough’s Climb Inside The Mouth Of Madness
As fans voice their desires for horror to be more widely recognized by awards ceremonies, Riley Keough’s performance in The Lodge is another “Give Toni Collette an Oscar for Hereditary, you cowards” situation. Undoubtedly one of the year’s best horror performances. Grace’s childhood marred by death, emotional abuse and father’s Bible-fanatic preaching creates constant character mistrust, just as Richard’s children reflect upon researching Grace’s family history online. Keough plays a woman attempting to move forward years later, still haunted by corpses with “Sin” scribbled on duct tape placed across closed mouths. Her genuine desire to rebuild is lit ablaze by Fiala and Franz’s proclivity to torment their already traumatized character, even as you see the cracks were only just papered over, never gone. That’s when the fun begins.
Keough’s transformation from attempted niceties with the kids to unpredictable sleepwalker to a victim of powers outside her control punishes hopefulness. Her forehead scrunched and frustrations visible when staring at decorative religious effects that trigger internal playbacks of her father’s hellfire and damnation give way to dead, blank eyes gazing outward into nothingness as less and less about her world makes sense. Frayed ends of sanity cannot be gripped, as Keough jettisons herself from reality into a broken land where despair leaves only one foreseeable option of escape. Understated, subtle, searing instability that’s played red-hot enough by Keough to melt Antarctica dry. Excuse my vagueness, but to reveal any more would spoil the how and why of Grace’s rapid descent into gaslit madness.
3. What’s A Sophomore Slump?
Fiala and Franz prove themselves to be anything but one-trick ponies after creeping under our skin with Goodnight Mommy. Once again the filmmakers utilize maternal relationships with adversarial children, pitting adults versus pipsqueaks in a battle of unwavering wits – or in this case, unwavering trauma. The weight of the thematic emotional core is densely complex, clarified and framed by the frozen simplicity and minimalist isolation of the setting. Richard’s cabin sits entirely removed from civilization, a purgatory where sins are relived, committed and exposed all at once. Like the water itself, audiences are trapped under the thick ice for an inevitable plunge into icy dread.
The Lodge is confident, take-no-prisoners horror that aims for the gut and watches you writhe and squirm in agony. So stylistic when panning through foreshadowing dollhouse rooms, or how Keough’s Grace loses human touches over time (the jerky movements of a marionette, for example). It’s Christmas horror that doesn’t need monsters or slashers given how man’s basest instincts are horrifying enough. Fiala and Franz heartlessly abuse their characters, gleefully punish their audiences, and treat horror cinema as the unforgivably mortifying genre it’s meant to be. Can masochism be an art form? It’s the only reality given how impressed I was by a film intent on making me feel as destroyed as possible.