Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have crafted a unique filmmaking partnership, crafting films of supreme precision and acerbic tone. Their 2014 film Goodnight Mommy was a clinical look at family dysfunctionality, its white-walled clarity belying inner turmoil where the manicured perfection is belied by the messiness of humanity. With The Lodge they explore a similar landscape, this time fields of white snow and ice contrasting with the seeming comfort of a wood-lined cottage that evokes feelings of warmth and comfort while equally evoking coffin-like claustrophobia.
The Lodge is essentially a family drama, where a pair of children (played by Lia McHugh and Jaeden Lieberher) are witness to the disintegration of a marriage between their mother (Alicia Silverstone) and father (Richard Armitage). When they move in with their dad they confront his new partner Grace (Riley Keough), and as a family they head out into the country for some holiday cheer.
Grace’s past trauma informs much of her reticence, while the children too are scarred by what’s come before. What results is a game of wills that has truly macabre consequences, blurring lines between victim and victimization with horrific results.
While events proceed deliberately, the narrative evolves with a precise intensity that serves the story well, mirroring the bleak yet inviting visuals of its lonely locale.
This film brilliantly eschews easy calls to supernaturalism, finding humanity itself perfectly capable of soul destroying behaviour without need to assign blame to something metaphysical. It’s this element that truly makes the film exceptional, yet at the same time may disappoint genre junkies who wish things to conform more readily to their expectations for more heightened narratives. For those patient enough, and willing to take the film by its own rules, The Lodge succeeds in ways like few others.
There are echoes to many masterpieces from the likes of Hitchcock and Kubrick, with its visual style particularly redolent of the latter thanks to long-time Yorgos Lanthimos collaborator Thimios Bakatakis’ icy photography. There are zeitgeist allusions to last year’s Hereditary, with similar dioramic elements that connect the children’s play world with the events of reality, yet the films take very different tacks as they reach their conclusions.
Given that The Lodge is a modern Hammer production it’s perhaps even more ironic it doesn’t reach for many of the tropes that fueled that famed studio’s output, where there’s no need here for another Wicker Man spurt of otherworldly madness to elicit our fears. The Lodge wisely draws upon many of the tropes and expected plot elements and twists them gently, revising our expectations throughout.
The performances are exceptional, particularly from the young children and their interaction with a growingly unstable Keough. Armitage exudes parental calm, a perfect casting that helps subvert the notion of the strong and capable father figure.
The Lodge is above all a character piece, using elements of fear and dread drawn from a myriad of horror sources to result in an exercise in domestic destruction. Its affect is all the more powerful because of its focus upon these flawed human characters, illustrating how evil’s banality is far more chilling than any call to the demonic or supernatural. We’re treated to a work whose very restraint is its biggest gift, holding back any methods that let us escape form the realization that families can be destroyed by nothing other than the tools we have within.
As an English language debut Franz and Fiala have overcome all the pitfalls that often are encountered with the switch is made by international filmmakers. The script is taut and the language precise, all the more remarkable given that drafts of the film went through back-and-forth translation between English and German throughout. The end result is a works that shows none of these seams, resulting in a new classic for this kind of thriller.
With affecting performances, exceptional photography, a haunting score and a storyline that eats at you throughout, The Lodge is an extraordinary work by a talented group. Franz and Fiala have crafted a bone-chilling film that’s a slow burn, its icy flames illuminating the dark crevices of human behaviour, resulting in a work not easily forgotten.