Two children experience the inscrutable while trapped in a remote cabin with their stepmother-to-be. The Lodge doesn’t bend genre conventions or invent a wholly original horror premise, but the twisty, austere, and perturbing psychological horror movie is the genre’s finest release since Midsommar. The latest from Parasite distributor Neon is also a memorable American introduction for Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.
Richard (Richard Armitage), a psychologist, met his fiancé Grace (Riley Keough), a young woman recovering from her experience in a Christian suicide cult, while researching a book on cults. When Richard announces his new marriage to his separated wife Laura (Alicia Silverstone), she commits suicide.
Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), Richard and Laura’s children, are devastated by the loss of their mother. To bring the children closer to their future stepmother, Grace suggests a winter vacation to a remote cabin in the mountains. When Richard leaves the trio alone to go work in the city for a few days, the cabin’s power goes out, Grace’s medication goes missing, and their food rations disappear.
Franz and Fiala were inspired by Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Best Picture-winner. Like Rebecca, The Lodge deftly feigns toward the big reveal without spoiling itself. The aberrant aunt-and-nephew directorial team craft a horror film worth unraveling; repeat viewings service the story, not the scares, although The Lodge is flush with skin-crawling scenes.
The screenplay, written by Sergio Casci and revised by Franz and Fiala, proffers the dangers of religious fanaticism. Days off of her medication, Grace hears whispers emanating from a painting of a nun adorning the family cabin. Suffering from mental health problems, Grace is susceptible to the need for penance being preached by an oil on canvas. More alarming still is Mia’s distress at the idea of her mother suffering in Hell due to her suicide. The Lodge is unrestrained—or unrepentant, if you will—in prescribing the potential for lifelong guilt and pain brought on by a religious upbringing.
Genre fans will notice horror imagery, like the portrait of a nun a la The Conjuring 2 or the Hereditary’s dollhouse, borrowed by Franz and Fiala. These set design elements are the foundation for The Lodge’s unnerving ambiance. Cinematography by frequent Yorgos Lanthimos collaborator Thimios Bakatakis captures the inescapable cabin’s desolate beauty. The harsh, foreboding score composed by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is enough to make There Will Be Blood composer Jonny Greenwood tense up.
Atmospheric filmmaking gives way to a sharp script and multifaceted performances by Keogh, Martell, and McHugh. Disturbing, evocative, and downright frightful, The Lodge is 2020’s first can’t-miss horror movie.