Those expecting a straightforward horror movie may be disappointed in “The Lodge,” a deliberately paced thriller that delivers more sinister feels than actual scares. This nightmare-inducing film is as unsettling as they come, a wildly unpredictable story that goes all sorts of places — and not necessarily to the ones you think.
Siblings Aidan (Jaeden Lieberher) and Mia (Lia McHugh) hold deep resentment for their newly separated dad Richard’s (Richard Armitage) new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). After rejecting multiple attempts to bond with their soon-to-be stepmom, Richard insists the four head up to the family’s cabin for the holidays. After he gets called back to work, the kids are left for several days in the remote house during a crippling winter storm. While trapped together, a series of strange events unearth Grace’s psychological demons that stem from her strict religious upbringing. Turns out Grace was raised in a religious cult led by her father, and is the sole survivor of a mass suicide.
The script and film are smartly sparse when needed, full of symbolism and an anticipation that comes from tinkering with traditional horror movie conventions. The audience is given only bits and pieces of relevant information, a smart setup that will keep you guessing what the real story is. This film misdirects in a way that doesn’t annoy, and what you think is happening probably isn’t.
Even more provocative is the comparison of religious fanaticism to mental illness, a deeply ingrained devotion that eventually leads Grace back into the hell of her own childhood.
Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (the duo behind 2014’s “Goodnight Mommy”) build a tense atmosphere that’s filled with trepidation and dread, making tremendous use of the claustrophobic setting (and the creepiest dollhouses you’ve ever seen) to mirror not only the woman’s slide into madness but also that of the kids. The performances are effective, especially from Lieberher and McHugh as they go from rebellious jerks to flat-out cowering with palpable fear.
The film proves that the flash of a big studio budget isn’t necessary to tell a great story, but skilled sound design is. It’s truly fantastic here. Every bark from a dog or creak from an old wooden door has meaning, and it all serves to deliver a full-circle payoff that comes with the film’s disturbing, shocking ending.