Sunday, October 13, 2019

Telluride Horror Show 2019: The Lodge (2019)

Directors: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz
Notable Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone

It already seems like ages ago that The Lodge started making the rounds of internet hype. It was finished filming in early 2018 but didn’t receive its big debut until Sundance earlier this year. Since then, the hype around the film has gone strangely quiet despite the fact that it received generally favorable reviews. For this writer, the film was going to be one to see simple to see how directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz would follow up their immensely respected and surprise hit debut, Goodnight Mommy. The Lodge resides very comfortably in that same territory as Goodnight Mommy in a lot of ways – immaculate atmosphere, a plot that revolves around mother and child relationships, and the rather intimate seclusion of its setting. It doesn’t quite have the impact that one might assume from it, based on the hype and the established talent of the directors, but The Lodge still remains and chilling (pun intended) and dread-inducing film that works on the nerves in its own horrifying ways.

To touch upon the issues right away is not necessarily how I like to approach a review, but it’s the best way to dig into The Lodge. This is because the lingering nag of the film comes from the methodical, slow-burn pacing. The film clocks in at a rather reasonable 100 minutes, but the film takes a glacial pace to work through all of the necessary plot and narrative beats to get to the main conflict. Most of these feelings of meandering come in the second act, once the family gets to the titular remote cabin and the film starts to establish the “new girlfriend stuck with her potential stepchildren in a snowed in house” dynamic. With some thoughtful trimming, The Lodge might have been an even leaner and meaner film, but alas, it chooses to draw out the tension and suspense rather than run with the energetic momentum it builds in key sequences.  

To set that up that long narrative though, The Lodge has to jump through a lot of hoops to establish motive and character choices as a tactic to draw out the tension of its mood and tone. The setups in the first act and the payoffs in the third act work in some astonishingly effective ways. Much of the film’s success rides on the nuanced performances from its principle (and very intimate) cast as they ably leap through the hoops. A surprisingly small but an incredibly powerful role for Alicia Silverstone in the opening sequences sets up much of the style that directors Fiala and Franz will utilize. A dense cloud of distrust for all of the characters partnered with a penchant for some popping jump scares make the atmosphere and tonal dissonance palpable. Slick use of the settings, in particular, The Lodge which is shot in the same cold and calculated manner that Kubrick shot the Outlook in The Shining, adds to this sense of an unwelcome place – which is replicated as the kids and future stepmother start to question if their own tension is being manipulated by the other.

Once the tension is established, the film does start to meander as previously mentioned, but it’s the third act that sells the entire film. As the various pieces of the puzzle are laid out it becomes obvious that, while occasionally predictable, The Lodge has laid some impressive groundwork to make sure that even the most asinine leaps of logic or character choices pay off in the emotional terror and streams of darkness (and infrequent and surprising violence.) The Lodge packs one hell of a wallop in the final 20 minutes and it’s some of the best and most atmospheric material that horror has produced this year.

All in all, The Lodge is a step down from their impressive debut, but Fiala and Franz prove once again that they are a powerful voice in horror cinema at this time. The film is shot with an intense precision that maximizes a plethora of fantastic visuals, suffocating atmospheric tension, and a third act that will hang on its viewer like an emotional eulogy. It’s one flaw is its length and rather meandering second act, but the rest is worthy of the praise it has received thus far. The only real question remains is how the directors will follow this up.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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