KVIFF 2019: The Lodge

The directors of Goodnight Mommy return with an enjoyably twisted psychological horror centred on an extraordinary performance by Riley Keough

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 04 Jul 2019
  • The Lodge
Film title: The Lodge
Director: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Starring: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone

The horror in the films of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala gets into your bones. They’re set within the well-monied worlds of sleek modernist architecture, but the clean lines and shiny surfaces only help to highlight the creeping, slow-burn dread.

The family unit is this Austrian duo's chief nightmare fuel. In their debut, Goodnight Mommy, twin boys begin to suspect their mother is an imposter when she returns home from a spell in hospital with her face swaddled in bandages. The Lodge, their latest twistedly enjoyable psychological horror, also concerns two less-than-trusting siblings: moody young teen Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and his younger sister Mia (Lia McHugh), who has a penchant for making creepy miniature versions of her immediate family. Over Christmas, their father (Richard Armitage) is throwing them together with his much younger girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough), to spend the holiday in the family's secluded lodge in the mountains.

Aidan and Mia have a few reasons why they’re not over the moon about the idea. For one, they blame Grace’s relationship with their father for causing their mother’s depression. And for another, when Grace was 12, she emerged as the only surviving member of a Christian cult that committed mass suicide.

Shot by Greek cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis (a regular Yorgos Lanthimos collaborator), the cosy cabin in which they’re holidaying becomes a claustrophobic pressure cooker, the rooms appearing to narrow as the film proceeds. The camera is prone to slow zooms and insidious tracking shots, as if it’s a presence making its way through the house. Meanwhile religious iconography hangs in every room, including a particularly creepy Madonna that looms over the dinner table and seems to look down disapprovingly on Grace, reminding her of her traumatic, Bible-thumping upbringing.

Whose point-of-view we are seeing is often ambiguous, but when Grace’s meds mysteriously go missing it becomes increasingly difficult to trust the nightmarish events unfolding on screen. The film shares some uncanny similarities to last year's Hereditary. Like that horror hit from Ari Aster, The Lodge opens on a tour of a dolls’ house, while elsewhere dolls are arranged in macabre tableaux that seem to comment on the film. There’s also a sleepwalking matriarch figure and even a blackly comic funeral scene. The Lodge has plenty of its own tricks up its sleeve, though, and a more sensitive approach to its themes of grief, trauma and madness that are all the more powerful for holding back on Aster’s Grand Guignol excesses.

The Lodge had its European premiere at the 54rd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, where it played in the Midnight Screening strand