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One of the best feelings you can have watching a horror film is the sensation that comes with not knowing what is going to happen next. Part of it is just the atmosphere it creates, as you become prepared to leap out of your skin at a moment’s notice, but it also cultivates a deep appreciation of the genre in general. When it comes to scary movies, the rules of reality can be broken, and the impossible made possible – and when anything and everything is on the table when solving a creepy mystery, there is tremendous latitude for real terror and surprise.

The Lodge, the latest film from Goodnight, Mommy writing/directing duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, is a fantastic representation of this idea. It’s a simple story, catalyzed by simply jamming a woman, two kids, and a whole bunch of acrimony in a snowbound cabin, but with some fantastic plotting, perfect pacing, clever casting, and haunting cinematography, it’s arranged as a heart-pounding horror show that unnervingly examines the consequences of cruelty.

Grace (Riley Keough) is our protagonist here, arriving into the story through unfortunate circumstances. She is the new girlfriend of recently-divorced Richard (Richard Armitage), who is the father of a son, Aiden (Jaeden Martell), and daughter, Mia (Lia McHugh), and the two kids are definitely not fans. They are still very much not over Richard’s separation from their mother, Laura (Alicia Silverstone), and hate the idea of Grace replacing her.

With the holiday break coming up, Richard has an idea to try and create a bit of peace among the people he cares for, suggesting that they travel to the family’s lodge in the wilderness for a getaway – though Richard winds up needing to stay at home for work the first few days. With Grace, Aiden, and Mia alone together, tension runs at an extreme high, and things only get worse when they become trapped by a snowstorm and things begin to mysterious disappear and break down. Making matters much worse, the events also start to trigger traumatic memories for Grace, who grew up in a religious cult, and was the only survivor of a mass suicide.

The Lodge executes an excellent escalation that builds to a fantastic finish.

It’s pretty damn freaky when Grace wakes up one morning to discover that the heat and electricity have been turned off, and that everyone’s personal possessions have up and disappeared, but that’s just where The Lodge kicks things off… and there’s a long road to travel. In collaboration with co-writer Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala weave a tight story that is wonderfully perspective-driven, upping the stakes and the direness of the circumstances in slow drips. On top of everything else it regularly has the audience question if they can actually trust the eyes through which they are watching events unfold.

Obviously this isn’t the forum to explore where it all leads, or even hint at how it wraps itself up, but what should still be stressed is how fantastically it sticks the landing. It’s a slick, devilish, and surprising while also being a totally natural progression for the story and perfectly on-theme. It manages to be both satisfying and crushing – which makes for an odd sensation walking out of the theater.

Riley Keough does a fantastic spiral-into-madness, and Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh hit all the right notes.

Given the setting, circumstances, and character conflicts in the setup, The Lodge is filled with tools in its story to constantly ratchet up tension and mystery, but given the intimacy of the narrative, there exists a more substantial demand for strong performances, but the main cast absolutely has the goods to deliver. Riley Keough has some experience to date in the genre, with roles in films like Hold The Dark and It Comes At Night, but this film is crafted to rest on her shoulders, and the work she does is phenomenal. Her panic and stress becomes our panic and stress, and though she is definitely what you might call a questionable narrator given her history, it makes the ride all the more captivating.

As Aiden and Mia, Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh have a very different relationship with the audience, but their roles are crucial, and the actors’ turns are fantastic. Because of the animosity that the kids feel towards Grace, you’re meant to question whether they can be trusted, or if there is simply an air of paranoia that constantly lingers.

With The Lodge, it's now time for horror fans to be super excited about Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.

Arguably what’s most exciting about The Lodge is that it firmly shows that Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala are the real deal, and filmmakers that movie-lovers should most definitely be tracking closely going forward. Following their German-language directorial debut Goodnight Mommy, the duo make a seamless transition into English, and they make it easy to fall in love with their meticulous work.

Their collaboration with cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis (best known for his films with the amazing Yorgos Lanthimos) yields some gorgeous photography – whether exploring the deepest corners of the titular cabin or following Grace as he attempts a journey through the snow – and the strong focus on detail even results in some adroit work from the casting department, as the similar looks of Alicia Silverstone and Riley Keough add excellent levels thematically.

History has taught movie fans to be wary of horror films released in the earliest months of the year, but The Lodge is a true exception, and ready to unleash an extra level of chill to a cold winter night. It’s an amazing scratch for a genre fan’s itch, and will immediately get you excited for all Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala projects going forward.

9 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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