Sundance often has sleeper hits come out of the Midnight Section. (2018 saw both Mandy and Hereditary.) This year’s boldest film seems to be The Lodge, the English-language debut by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, the Austrian team behind 2014’s celebrated Goodnight Mommy.
Ostensibly a family drama where people outdo each other in behaving badly, the most remarkable element of The Lodge is how it’s able to sustain a chilling mood throughout without ever going off the rails. It’s a testament to the precision of performance and direction, which make for a truly haunting work that avoids histrionics while still crawling under your skin.
With a beautiful and icy look thanks to Kubrickian photography by Thimios Bakatakis (The Lobster), Fanz and Fiala’s vision is one of stark contrast between the hominess of the cabin and the stark, blank whiteness outside. Shot in a snowy Quebec standing in for California, the location provides the perfect contrast between comfort and danger.
With fine performances by Riley Keough, Richard Armitage, and Alicia Silverstone, it’s the kids Jaeden Leiberher and Lia McHugh who really up the ante. These directors are experts at coaxing phenomenal performances out of their child collaborators.
This dark and twisted tale evokes films like The Shining but defies any expectations while doing so. The movie brilliantly employs traditional spooky scare tactics and twists them on their head, finding that the most effecting and scary things need not be from supernatural feats but from the bare cruelty of humanity.
The Lodge is a frosty bit of fabulousness, unafraid to enter to some supremely dark places without ever devolving into easy resolution. It’s a testament to how evil can just as easily emerge from human beings rather than supernatural sources, and how self-serving actions can trigger deadly consequences. A tremendous English debut from these fine filmmakers, this is a far grander movie than its genre categorization may pigeonhole it, and an exceptional drama for horror fans or the squeamish alike.