Courtesy of NEON
Coming so quickly on the heels of Ari Aster’s “Hereditary,” it seemed “The Lodge” was going to face an uphill battle to find its own identity - especially after a near identical opening sequence that left me yearning back to that film. “Hereditary” it is not, but filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz – who made one of the best horror films of my generation “Goodnight Mommy” – give American audiences something to dig their teeth into, a crazy and frantic metaphor on the confines of Christianity. “The Lodge” also deviates enough from the “Hereditary” formula by finding an ending that feels like its own.
Still, that “Hereditary” shadow is strong, right down to the same miniature dollhouse motif and a family in shambles following a shocking tragedy, with a plot that dabbles with evil cultists and having key haunted house similarities, “The Lodge” can seem like a carbon copy. But alas there’s enough signature Franz and Fila moments, too, that keep you guessing until its no-so mainstream friendly conclusion, plus you could argue that Aster stole an element or two from “Goodnight Mommy” to help shape his vision. Honestly, we should be grateful that established horror filmmakers can be in a dialogue with themselves and deliver two genuinely suspenseful pictures, despite obvious parallels.
After we’re done dissecting those two pictures, by the time we reach our titular destination, the tensions are sky high. Enter Grace (a game and fun to watch Riley Keough) and her fiance's children (Jaeden Lieberher and Lia McHugh – both doing great work anchoring the emotional tissue that connects the rising action) who are at odds with each other amidst being isolated in the remote mountains during a brutal winter storm. The kids see Grace as the outsider who broke up their parents’ marriage and is the root of their suffering.
Part of that, we learn, is because Grace comes from a fragile background: she was the sole survivor of a suicide cult, amplifying the creepy levels to 1,000, and is triggered by small and obscure objects (crucifixes and paintings) and constantly needs medication to help subside her symptoms. (Side note: snow angels have never felt this unnerving). Why the father decided to leave his kids with this woman is a conversation for another day.
From there, “The Lodge” – though not as terrifying as its spiritual companion – finds plenty to chew on in terms of mental illness, marital tensions, and suicide awareness. Composers Danni Bensi and Saunder Jurrianns inject a dissonance of sounds in the backdrop to further create friction amongst the isolated comrades, meanwhile Sylvain Lematire’s atmospheric production design creates the perfect playground for the situational horror madness.
“The Lodge'' is a test in endurance, and the amount of dread that begins to pile up as cabin fever sets in becomes overpowering. You can sense there’s precision in the execution at hand, which is a true indicator of two filmmakers who know how to play with our fears. “The Lodge” doesn’t always hit the right notes and stumbles with a few pacing issues near the final act, but there’s enough jolts here to perhaps make you rethink booking that vacation cabin in the winter.
THE LODGE opened in limited release and is slowly expanding across the country.