Children are sometimes the most horrifying parts of the horror genre. There’s something about their innocence that makes their evil deeds hit harder. This fact is something that writing-directing duo Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz have used to bring truly disturbing stories to life. In their first feature film Goodnight Mommy, the two presented a deeply unsettling slow-burn film that left me speechless when the credits rolled. In that film, twin boys move to a new home with their mother after she has face-changing cosmetic surgery. The twins don’t adapt to the change well and believe their mother is an imposter. Now, in The Lodge, Fiala and Franz tap into the fears of step-parents everywhere by delivering a terrifying story that forces its characters and us to question reality.
In The Lodge, Grace (Riley Keough), a woman with a tragic past is a soon-to-be stepmom. After the tragic death of their mother, her fiancé’s two children Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) are reluctant to accept their father’s new fiancé into the family. In an attempt to bring them together, their father proposes a Christmas getaway for the family, Grace included. What follows isn’t the holiday miracle of a united family that their father was hoping for. Instead, the three become trapped in the cabin as strange and frightening events take place.
There is a lot to say about The Lodge’s use of trauma and emotional manipulation of vulnerable people like Grace. The only survivor of a Christian death cult, it’s clear from the beginning that Grace is still struggling with her survival. Taking multiple medications and using different coping techniques, Grace is delicate but she’s trying. She’s doing her best to earn the kids’ trust and enter their lives in a way that puts them first, respectful of their mother’s passing the entire way. But good intentions mean nothing when the children are set on keeping her iced out of their lives.
While Grace attempts to build relationships, Aidan and Mia can’t be bothered with putting in any effort. Instead, they do what they can to alienate her, refusing to eat with her, and ultimately warping her sense of reality. Martell and McHugh, deliver shocking performances that chill you to the bone and will make you question want to become a step-parent. Their apathy towards Grace’s needs and their grief after losing their mother all come across strongly in the film.
The Lodge offers up a foundation of empathy for its viewers to experience the film through. When we’re first introduced to the kids, we’re meant to be on their side, rooting for them, feeling for them and rooting against Grace, the woman who broke their family apart. Fiala and Franz set up a narrative in which we don’t consider Grace as a person trying until they flip the script and we’re pulled into her heart and struggle.
As Grace, Keogh delivers one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. She’s emotional, she’s vulnerable, and she’s endearing. As she’s pushed to her breaking point throughout the film we feel for her. The unsettling push she experiences makes us shift in our seats, we’re scared for her. We follow her down a spiral and we want to pull her up, but Fiala and Franz don’t give us that option. We have to sit there watching her suffering and the slow-burning effect of her trauma is difficult to watch in the best way horror can show.
The Lodge is also visually stunning, the environment playing as much a part of the story as the characters. The cold darkness of the film adds to its weight. As Grace’s body is ravaged by the cold we the physical manifestation of her mental deterioration. Washed in grays and shot with darkness, the scenes never feel muddied and I never had to strain my eyes to see what was in the frame. The film is beautiful in its stark dark tones and snowy landscapes.
While there is much more to say, The Lodge is best experienced with as little information as possible. Its plot moves you seamlessly through aspects of reality, leaving you to question what your seeing in the same way Grace does. The horror in The Lodge is how we trust, how trust is taken advantage of, and how children hold power in situations involving families. It’s a film that makes you squirm, crawls under your skin, and doesn’t leave you. The Lodge is all I can think about after seeing it at Fantastic Fest, and I don’t think that’s changing any time soon.
The Lodge is streaming now on Hulu and VOD.
While there is much more to say, The Lodge is best experienced with as little information as possible. Its plot moves you seamlessly through aspects of reality, leaving you to question what your seeing in the same way Grace does. The horror in The Lodge is how we trust, how trust is taken advantage of, and how children hold power in situations involving families. It’s a film that makes you squirm, crawls under your skin and doesn’t leave you.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.