[Fantastic Fest review] ‘THE LODGE’ books spooks and intrigue for dread-filled stay

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

THE LODGE

Not rated, 108 minutes.
Director: Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz
Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage and Alicia Silverstone

AUSTIN – Since Robert Eggers’ premiere of THE VVITCH at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2015, there has been a film each that has been labeled as “this year’s THE VVITCH.” When you hear that your ears immediately perk up, which is then followed by strong disbelief. THE VVITCH managed to pull off genuine scares along with a compelling story that follows you home to your dreams. HEREDITARY took the same path. And after this year’s Sundance, THE LODGE appeared to be next in line.

After its regional premiere at Fantastic Fest, that comparison is not far off. It may not have the same pull or haunting effect, but THE LODGE certainly conjures up enough dread to make you feel uneasy. It attaches itself like a leech and makes you wonder: Should I rethink my relationship with God? Am I raising my children right? These are questions we often wrestle with, but THE LODGE gives you more to think about and fear.

Continuing many of the themes from their 2014 feature film debut GOODNIGHT MOMMY, filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz fashion a story about a soon-to-be stepmother (an award-worthy Riley Keough) who is trapped inside a remote holiday cabin by a fierce blizzard with her fiancé’s two children (Lia McHugh and IT’s Jaeden Martell). Keough’s character, Grace, begins to sense an unseen evil force along with the children, causing THE LODGE to play with audiences’ heads as it does theirs. 

Like THE VVITCH and HEREDITARY, THE LODGE is a slow-burn. It nearly takes 45 minutes before anything remotely terrifying occupies the frame. It takes its sweet time to build compassion for the characters. You understand their dynamics and question their motivations. The ambiguous tone throughout maintains your attention. While it’s a languid pace, Fiala and Franz sprinkle bread crumbs along the trail. When you think it zigs, it zags. 

There are many secrets to discover about THE LODGE, and they are easy to spoil. But it is the exploration of religious extremism and parental fear that sink the anchor. Without getting into the specifics of how this works its way into the narrative, the distance between the characters provides a lot of food for thought. For instance, the relationship between the kids and their future stepmother is more than just silly games akin to THE PARENT TRAP. Like GOODNIGHT MOMMY, the children suspect Grace is not what their dad (Richard Armitage) thinks she is. The aftereffects of their parents’ divorce (Alicia Silverstone portrays the mom) has brought about a lot of distrust. Are the children right to flash their fangs at Grace, or are they blowing it out of proportion? That’s the fun of the film.

Supported by explosive performances, a moody visual aesthetic and exceptionally nuanced storytelling, THE LODGE is psychological horror at its finest. Fiala and Franz take an old-fashioned approach that creeps under the skin as insidiously as evil does with the family. We feel the characters’ terror, desperation and yearnings for truth, and that’s what makes THE LODGE such an effective mood piece.

Grade: A-

THE LODGE premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX. An encore screening will be held on September 23 at 8:30 p.m. Visit fantasticfest.com for more information. Neon will release the film on February 7, 2020.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.