Producers: Simon Oakes, Aliza James and Aaron Ryder Directors: Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala Screenplay: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Danny Keough, Lola Reid, Philippe Ménard and Jarred Atkin Distributor: Neon
Like their first film “Goodnight Mommy,” this psychological thriller from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala is, despite being set in an expansive outdoor locale, a claustrophobic tale of ever-increasing menace. And like the previous film, it concerns a woman who just might be being tormented by two children.
In this case the damsel in distress is Grace (Riley Keough), the fiancée of Richard Hall (Richard Armitage). Richard is married, but separated from his wife Laura (Alicia Silverstone), and they share custody of their children Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh). After Richard tells Laura that he wants a divorce to marry Grace, she leaves the kids with him, goes home, and in a shocking scene commits suicide. Aiden and Mia’s grief following the funeral is intense, and so is their detestation of Grace, whom they blame for their mother’s death.
Richard, with remarkable obtuseness, suggests that they all go up to his isolated lodge for Christmas where the siblings can bond with their soon-to-be stepmother. To make matters worse, he then decides to depart for work in the city, leaving Grace, Aiden and Mia alone.
This is not a prescription for warm family time, and things quickly deteriorate. The situation is made worse by the fact that Aiden has used his dad’s computer to look into Grace’s past, which is not pretty. She’s not only the daughter of a religious cult leader (Danny Keough, shown intoning his messages in flashback), but the sole survivor of the group’s mass suicide (or was it a mass murder?). That goes far to explain her generally high-string manner, and his dependence on unspecified medication.
Circumstances in the lodge quickly deteriorate: what can you expect when one of the movies they curl up to watch before bedtime is John Carpenter’s “The Thing”? Strange things begin to happen: decorations and food disappear, and even Grace’s little dog goes missing—as do her pills. The power goes off. Grace begins to hear her father’s voice and see things. And of course, a blizzard has made the tundra virtually impassable. But even if it hadn’t, the car won’t start.
“The Lodge” teases us with possibilities. Is Grace simply going off the rails? Are Aiden and Mia deliberately tormenting her? Or is there some malignant force abroad in the place—perhaps Grace’s father attempting to add to the number of his victims, or Laura’s spirit thirsting for revenge?
The setup is ripe with possibilities, and the directors seize on them enthusiastically, creating an atmosphere of brooding menace and incipient disaster. There’s a scene in which the family-to-be is out playing on a nearby frozen lake, which features the expected near-catastrophe. There’s a trek by Grace to try to find help, in which she stumbles on some abandoned structures whose weird shapes set against the snowy landscape have a surrealistic effect. Mia’s obsession with her doll—obviously an important connection with her dead mother—is a recurrent motif. And there are numerous scenes of the trio alone in the lodge, their sparring taking on an increasingly desperate tone as they accuse one another of responsibility for the goings-on.
The performances are all excellent. Keough effectively etches Grace’s descent into madness, and Martell runs the gamut from smug anger to genuine fear, while McHugh has a naturalness than feels real. Armitage is persuasively clueless, while Silverstone makes the most of what amounts to a cameo.
While not underestimating the actors, however, the stars of the film are the craftsmen who have made it an effectively unsettling exercise in mood and tension, even if in the end the answers aren’t entirely satisfying. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, whose work with Yorgos Lanthimos has earned him plaudits, fashions images of strikingly eerie power, making full use of the remote locations and Sylvain Lamaitre’s production design. Michael Palm’s stately editing adds to the vibe the directors are aiming for, as does the gloomy score by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.
The result is a haunting thriller that makes up in sheer style what it lacks in narrative logic.