Atmosphere, creepy and unnerving, is the main star of The Lodge, a fits-and-starts horrorshow from Veronika Franz and her nephew Severin Fiala, the Austrian duo who made a skin-crawling debut in 2014 with Goodnight Mommy. Now they’re up to their old tricks, this time in English, with parenthood and its contingent terrors very much a part of the equation. The mommy here is Laura (Alicia Silverstone), a fragile soul who reacts very badly when her estranged journalist husband Richard (Richard Armitage) pushes for a divorce. His goal is to marry Grace (Riley Keough), his much younger girlfriend and the subject of an article he wrote about an Evangelical suicide cult in which his new lady love, then 12, was the only survivor. Hello, PTSD.
Grace claims she’s ok, but the pills she keeps sneaking suggest differently. With Laura quickly out of the way—goodnight Mommy, indeed—the marriage is a go. The snag is that Richard’s kids, a teenager named Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and his little sister Mia (Lia McHugh), don’t like the idea of dad marrying someone they peg as a psychopath. Richard, of course, thinks the logical solution is to leave Grace and the kids alone in a remote lodge with a snowstorm coming in while he’s out of touch in the city. Has this dude never seen The Shining?
And that’s the movie. The Lodge strains credulity beyond the breaking point; “contrived” is the mildest word you could use to describe the plot. Luckily, Franz and Fiala are masters of setting a mood that makes your skin crawl. And Keough—she’s Elvis’s eldest granddaughter—is a subtle sensation. Sidestepping the party-trick hysterics built into the setup, the actor digs so deep into Grace’s bruised soul that you can you feel her nerve endings. Keough has won raves and award attention for Steven Soderbergh’s TV series The Girlfriend Experience, and for her work in movies both commercial (Mad Max: Fury Road) and indie (American Honey). She’s a knockout.
The movie delivers it scariest moments when a blizzard knocks out the power and Grace is out of meds and then, well, you’ll see. What to make of Aiden peeking at Grace in her shower (Martell, so good in Knives Out as the alt-right grandson of the murder victim, just nails the sinister side of sweet). Dark games are afoot, but the question is who’s playing them—Grace or these kids deprived of a mother and, worse, their devices? Martell and McHugh excel at suggesting something not quite so innocent in these allegedly helpless children. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) does a fine job of making dread palpable.
But where is it all going? And to what purpose? Repetition and molasses-like pacing eventually dulls The Lodge‘s edge and cumulative power. What started with a promise of something new in psychological terror ends as a long day’s journey into a night that is all too easy to see coming.