The Lodge, directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, is about as pleasing a movie as those directors are likely to produce. That isn’t to say it’s a lighthearted romp, but after 2015’s torturous Goodnight Mommy, particularly anything would be a breeze in comparison. Fiala and Franz show that they can still, undoubtedly, tell unsettling tales that look great, but The Lodge gives them an interesting and powerful story to play around with. Unfortunately, it crumbles like a makeshift tent without any deep thought. Regardless, The Lodge is a probing film that causes you to pity its characters, and cringe at what they do, in equal amounts.
Six months after his estranged wife’s death, Richard (Richard Armitage) has decided to marry his girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). His children, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), have no interest in getting to know their prospective step-mother. Though, Grace seems reasonably normal as she smiles at them before they quickly look away. Aidan and Mia are extremely skeptical of any person taking the place of their mother. Their suspicion grows when they learn she is the only surviving member of a religious cult that was run by her own father. Richard wants his children to connect with Grace, and plans a holiday getaway to their remote vacation home. Surrounded by open spaces and snow, the house is as cozy as it is suffocating. When Richard has to leave for a work-related emergency, Grace, Aidan, and Mia are left in the house alone. As days pass and the steady snow becomes a blizzard, Aidan and Mia’s suspicions of Grace continue to grow.
With her tremendous performance, Riley Keough proves she is fully capable of being the lead in horror — or any genre. She makes Grace both completely vulnerable, and yet, subtly sinister. Keough has turned in great work with supporting roles in It Comes at Night and Under the Silver Lake, and it is delightful to see what she achieves with such a meaty role. Although Martell and McHugh are given ample time to shine, Keough does the bulk of the heavy thematic lifting. To go into extended detail about the emotional places that Keough takes Grace would be difficult to do without going into spoiler territory. That said, her performance is likely the best we’ve seen in horror since Toni Collette in Hereditary. Whereas Collette’s acting was powerful, if not slightly showy, Keough wields amazing control. It is truly a marvel, and will likely be the most lasting element of The Lodge.
Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz mix delicate visual imagery and eerie atmosphere to an astonishing degree. Their first film, 2014’s Goodnight Mommy, was critically acclaimed, and had a marvelous aesthetic, but it often felt uncomfortable for the sake of being uncomfortable. Goodnight Mommy and The Lodge both feature two children with a close bond living in an isolated house with a woman they don’t believe could be their mother. Yet, The Lodge allows its three leads to have a far greater character range. Although the movie felt one-note (unease, torture, unease, torture, repeat), The Lodge builds tragic melancholy, rather than simply pummeling the audience with violence and manipulative scares. However, pure originality appears to be a tricky spot for Fiala and Franz. Similar to how the plot of Goodnight Mommy had uncomfortably similarities to 2003’s A Tale of Two Sisters, there are homages in The Lodge that resemble mimicry as opposed to allusion. The first act has Aidan and Mia building, and playing with, miniature recreations of their family’s tragedy. These scenes are effectively unnerving, but also recall Hereditary in a rather forceful fashion that seems close to criminal. Elements of horror pictures from the last few decades appear from time to time, making viewers wonder if the directors weren’t aware of them, or if they were simply performing some Quentin Tarantino-esque hodgepodge of the “greatest hits of horror.” Luckily, these moments don’t last too long and The Lodge stands somewhat on its own in spite of them.
Much like the plot-twist-filled and occasionally nonsensical Goodnight Mommy, there are plot points in The Lodge that don’t necessarily add up. The longer viewers try to make logical sense of the unexpected plot developments, the more they lose any realism. Luckily, The Lodge mixes discomfort with true emotion, thanks primarily to Keough’s fantastic performance. Fiala and Franz have made a rather delicate, and solidly distressing experience that lingers with you longer than you’d expect. Here’s to hoping they keep getting scripts that push their strengths — hopefully further away from emulation.