Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz could be on their way to a thematic trilogy with The Lodge, their follow-up to 2014’s Goodnight Mommy that feels cut from the same harrowing, claustrophobic cloth. But here the nightmare family drama is shaded with religious psycho-thriller undertones and a sort of frigid despair specific to the very best of winter horrors.
Riley Keough is Grace, a cult survivor newly engaged to Richard Armitage‘s Richard. Richard left his wife (Alicia Silverstone) for the much-younger Grace, and his kids Mia and Aidan (Lia McHugh, It‘s Jaeden Lieberher) have no intention of forgiving the woman they blame for their beloved mom’s devastation. Richard does his best to forge a new family out of these fragments, insisting that Mia, Aiden and Grace spend a few days together at his old vacation home to get to know each other. But a snowstorm leaves them trapped in the isolated mountain cabin, and soon Grace’s past trauma and the kids’ stubborn unhappiness start working against each other, overtaking all three in a pall of escalating misery, tension and finally horror.
There’s a bit of Hitchcock‘s Rebecca here, with Grace fighting the specter of Richard’s once happy life with another woman. His first wife is everywhere – in photos, videos, the doll Mia carries, in the Catholic iconography that decorates the cabin, an overt spiritualism that unnerves Grace, considering she once came face to face with the worst malevolence religion can bring. And there’s more than a little of Goodnight Mommy here, too, with Mia and Aidan acting as a guarded, impervious unit that Grace can’t crack no matter how hard she genuinely tries. The film gives a bold, in-story nod to The Thing, and the snow-banked, closed-in paranoia of The Lodge certainly pays tribute to Carpenter’s masterpiece.
But The Lodge is plenty of its own thing, too, a bleak treatise on the damage that unchecked fanaticism and family dysfunction can do to our psyches. Fiala and Franz do what they absolutely do best here, building an almost sickening atmosphere of anxiety before anything scary even plays out onscreen – but when the scary stuff happens, trust that it is scary. Amazingly scary. Punishingly scary.
It’s a gorgeous film, a dim, grey-blue dream in stark contrast to the warm golds and greens of Goodnight Mommy. The performances are all terrific, from Silverstone’s small but unforgettable role to Keough’s otherworldly fragility. The kids are astonishingly good, natural and lived-in, occasionally quite devastating.
Every choice in this film – every frame, every performance, every sound and edit – is crafted for utmost discomfort, making for a relentless onslaught of unease. The Lodge starts subtle, with vexing sound design and a few eerie shots (hanging turkeys, black balloons, a screaming face frozen on the TV), but on a dime, it spirals into outright insanity, taking turn after shocking turn, leaving the audience out of breath and praying for a reprieve.
But that reprieve won’t come until after the end credits roll – and thanks to the lasting power of The Lodge, maybe not even then.