UK | 2019 | Directed by Severin Fiala & Veronica Franz
Logline: A soon-to-be stepmom is snowed in with her fiancé's two children at a remote holiday house, and while tension mounts between the trio, strange and frightening events take place.
There’s no denying the talent Severin Fiala and Veronica Franz have at creating atmosphere, intrigue, and suspense, as their debut feature, Goodnight Mommy, oozed it, and their follow-up feature literally drips with it. The Lodge is drenched in an ominous vibe, right from the start. This dread is sustained through much of the movie, so it’s a shame when the screenplay falls apart during the movie’s last third.
Richard (Richard Armitage) is preparing for his kids to meet properly with his fiancée, Grace (Riley Keogh). His separated wife, Laura (Alicia Silverstone), arrives with teenage Aidan (Jaeden Lieberher) and younger sister Mia (Lia McHugh), and Richard drops the divorce bombshell on her. She takes it rather badly. As do the children. Grace feels the animosity. Richard tries hard, and arranges for the four of them to spend Christmas in a remote rural lodge, surrounded by luscious snow and adjacent to a beautiful frozen lake. What could go wrong?
Aidan and Mia have done a wee background check on Grace, and discover that as a 12-year-old she was the subject of their father’s research for a book about her parents’ religious death cult, and was the sole survivor of. There’s definitely something not quite right with Grace, which only intensifies the tension between her and the kids. Grace is taking medication and she seems very nice, so maybe everything will be hunky dory.
Richard has work commitments, and although wary, Grace convinces him that she and the kids will be fine for a couple of days, so he leaves them to drive back to the city.
Now it’s the perfect time for things to get weird. Which they do.
Unlike other directing duos, who are either siblings or married couples, Fiala and Franz have slightly more unusual connection. Franz is married to Austrian agent provocateur Ulrich Siedl, and Fiala is his nephew. No doubt the dark and troublesome films of Siedl have influenced Fiala and Franz as directors. The Lodge is co-written between them and Serio Casci.
The story starts off on great promise, a really terrific first quarter, with the audience recovering from a shocking scene during the prologue, and with the knowledge of Grace’s childhood trauma lurking in the background, the anticipation of what may follow is palpable. Is The lodge somehow connected to the original abode of Grace’s cult? Is Richard as screwed up as his fiancée? Surely a grown man studying the history of a very disturbed young girl, and then choosing to marry her can’t be all that right in the head.
Grace tries her darnedest to earn Aidan and Mia’s trust and acceptance. She’s well-adjusted. As long as she takes her pills.
You’d think, knowing what the kids have gleaned from the video they secretly viewed on their father’s computer, they’d be wise enough not to poke and prod a sleeping dog. This is where The Lodge falls on its face, and stumbles around, trying to get back on its feet. There’s really no way the kids would do what they do. All semblance of believability is thrown out the window into the cold, hard snow.
I was so enjoying the movie, especially Riley Keogh’s performance. The retro look of the movie is terrific, utilising a lot of wide angle shots, and a clever use of miniatures - the camera inside a toy house in the city home that seemingly mirrors The Lodge. The score is also excellent, with its rumbling bottom end.
The Lodge could’ve ended up one of the best horror movies of the year, if Fiala, Franz and Casci hadn’t opted for such a preposterously-plotted extension of jeopardy. I was fully prepared for the narrative to tie in to Grace’s frightening childhood in a more succinct and powerful way, a la The Shining, but that arc was abandoned for a “twist” that was implausible at best and risible at worst. A decision that scuttled the movie.