by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala
Everything, from the very beginning, is charged with an unsettling religiosity, in The Lodge. A dark, judgmental religiosity that instils terror from the very first minutes. Large paintings depicting sacred images and severe crucifixes seem to continuously observe the protagonists. And a gloomy light, which strongly contrasts with the overexposed white of the immense expanse of snow surrounding the house, becomes the main protagonist of the entire feature film.
The wicked stepmother
Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. Aunt and nephew with a great passion for the seventh art. She is the wife of Ulrich Seidl, one of the most renowned – and controversial – contemporary Austrian directors, who has always believed in his wife and young nephew. To the point of producing, back in 2012, the documentary Kern, where one could already guess the path the two filmmakers would take. And if, with Goodnight Mommy (2014), the two had definitively entered the world of horror – as well as international fame – with The Lodge – their first feature film in English – they have only confirmed their predilection for a genre where disturbing atmospheres, long shots, silences that foreshadow imminent tragedies and endless twists, that unsettle the spectator and change any idea he may have had before, play an essential role.
Similarly to Goodnight Mommy, also in The Lodge the tragedy takes place within a family: Aidan and Mia are two young siblings who have recently lost their mother, when she committed suicide at the news that her husband had left her for another woman he intended to marry. Still traumatised by the recent loss, the children will, however, have to spend the Christmas holidays in their father’s mountain house. It’s a pity that until Christmas Eve his father will be busy with work and the children will have to stay with Grace, their future stepmother with a very dark past.
Everything, from the very beginning, is marked by religiosity in The Lodge. A dark, judgmental religiosity that instils terror from the very first minutes. Large paintings depicting sacred images and severe crucifixes seem to continuously observe the protagonists. A gloomy light that strongly contrasts with the burnt white of the immense expanse of snow surrounding the house becomes the main protagonist of the entire feature film. And so – as was the case in Goodnight Mommy – in The Lodge it is the house itself that is treated as a true main character. A house that – in spite of the Christmas atmosphere – conveys everything to its inhabitants except a necessary sense of security. A house that – as we can see at the beginning of the film – is faithfully reproduced by the two children in a much smaller but very faithful model, with dolls inside that resemble the members of the family themselves. It is surprising, in this respect, how what seems to be an innocent children’s game actually has nothing playful or joyful about it. What is conveyed to us is a deep sense of claustrophobia, further accentuated by this very presence of religion in the children’s lives and the strong, unbearable sense of guilt it causes.
There are moments – during the screening – when we get the impression that there is something already seen in The Lodge. Yet Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have shown that they know how to handle numerous twists well. Nothing (or almost nothing) is predictable in The Lodge. And if the two directors have evidently drawn heavily from what has been done in the past (it is impossible, for example, not to think at certain moments of Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others), it is also true that, at the same time, they have managed to create a language of their own. A language in which long silences, cramped rooms, endless corridors and frightening mental suggestions are the absolute protagonists. A language that fully reflects the canons of horror cinema, combining them with the German expressionist tradition and, in some ways, also referring to the cinema of their countrywoman Jessica Hausner (especially with regard to the feature film Hotel, made in 2004). All this resulted in the two directors capturing the attention of audiences and critics in 2014 with Goodnight Mommy. All of this – but in a totally different form – was reprised in the successful The Lodge. And if, at times, aunt and nephew still seem a little uncertain about which way to go, this is probably due to the relatively little experience behind the camera. But with such production rhythms, it certainly won’t take them long to reach their own maturity.
Original title: The Lodge
Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Country/year: UK, USA, Austria / 2019
Running time: 100’
Cast: Riley Keough, Richard Armitage, Alicia SIlverstone, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Rebecca Faulkenberry, Danny Keough, Katelyn Wells, Lola Reid
Screenplay: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Cinematography: Thimios Bakatakis
Produced by: FilmNation Entertainment, Hammer Films