‘The Lodge’ Review: A Chilling Family Nightmare with ‘The Shining’ Vibes | Sundance 2019

     January 31, 2019

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If you’ve seen Goodnight Mommy, you know directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have a penchant for infusing a sinister twist when digging into the complications of troubled families, and their new feature, The Lodge, is no different.

The movie stars Jaeden Lieberher and Lia McHugh as Aidan and Mia. After the passing of their mother (Alicia Silverstone) they’re sent to live with their father (Richard Armitage) and eventually, he insists they spend quality time with his girlfriend Grace (Riley Keough). All four drive off to the family’s remote cottage where Grace continues her attempt to win over the kids. When their dad has to return to the city for work, Grace agrees to keep an eye on Aidan and Mia while he’s gone. All is well and safe enough until a nasty snow storm blows through and traps the trio in the cottage as strange and eerie things start to occur.

At the start, the driving force of this movie is Aidan and Mia, and Lieberher and McHugh make an impeccable pair. Lieberher already has a wildly impressive resume including It and Midnight Special where it’s abundantly clear that he’s able to elevate what’s on the page, turning his characters into complete people with a significant amount of history in tow. And in the case of The Lodge, that history sparks an extremely believable and moving attachment to both his mother and his sister, as well as a deep seeded resentment for Grace. 

Mia carries similar feelings for Grace, but her different approach to navigating that relationship adds a fascinating complexity to the situation. Whereas Aidan draws a clear line, Mia is younger and far more impressionable. She’s loyal to her big brother, respects him and listens to him, but some simple kindness from Grace can go a longer way with Mia. There isn’t a moment of The Lodge when you’re not meant to expect that something odd is going on with Grace, but the focus here is two kids who recently had their beloved mother ripped away from them; when Grace makes a seemingly genuine effort, it’s only natural to find some solace in the kids having a potential mother figure again.

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Image via Sundance

Further putting you on edge as all of this plays out is Keough’s disturbingly impressive performance, something that takes center stage when a subtle change in point-of-view takes place. Grace grew up with strict religious pressures and still carries the demons of her past with her. Things get dark to say the least, but there are also a number of moments with sincere warmth and kindness that suggest she really is trying to move on, like how she treats her dog and also numerous attempts to bond with the kids including going iceskating and decorating the house for Christmas. But almost every effort ends in disaster and hostility, and as the snow storm further traps her and her sources of comfort become threatened, Grace starts showing signs of becoming increasingly unhinged, and when that really kicks in, Keough’s work is precise, unforgettable and appropriately nightmarish.

While Goodnight Mommy is an extremely well-crafted film, I had figured out exactly what was going on in that movie a little too soon for my liking. With The Lodge, however, Franz and Fiala got me. There’s a quality to the atmosphere in the movie that prohibits you from taking a step back and assessing the big picture. Instead, you feel the severe isolation of the location of the cottage, you’re further boxed into the small home by the storm, and then on top of that, the visuals and plot progression encourage a frantic search for answers while observing Mia, Aidan and Grace’s behavior.

The Lodge doesn’t give you a moment to thaw. Even during the aforementioned ice skating scene, Franz and Fiala seemingly want you to know that danger looms. And the choice to open the movie with an unshakable sequence featuring Silverstone immediately sets that tone. The directing duo keeps you firmly on your toes by creating a constant sense of unease but also draws you in using three fully realized characters who are in desperate need of a stable family. Between the chilly setting, how the camera maneuvers through the home, and also how inner demons manifest and threaten to consume a family whole, The Lodge is quite reminiscent of the threat lurking in The Shining. It’s a relentless, mind-bending psychological nightmare in which the threat of demons from one’s past are always lurking.

Grade: A-

The Lodge does not currently have a release date, but Neon secured the rights to the film during the festival.

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