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Fantastic Fest 2019: “The Lodge” Film Review

“The Lodge” is the final word in chilling storytelling. From beginning to credits, it holds you in its icy grip and squeezes the breath out of you in an exhilarating slow burn. It’s exactly the film that Fantastic Fest audiences thirst for.

The film is directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz and marks the second partnership of the duo, coming five years after “Goodnight Mommy.” It stars Jaeden Martell (“IT”) as Aidan, Richard Armitage as Richard, Riley Keough as Grace, Lia McHugh as Mia and Alicia Silverstone as Laura.

“The Lodge” enjoyed a very successful opening at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and joined the ranks of such films as “Hereditary” and “The Witch” as one of the rare midnight films to leave the festival with a distribution deal. On September 21, “The Lodge” hosted its Texas premiere at Fantastic Fest 2019.

In “The Lodge,” a soon-to-be stepmother, Grace, is snowed in with her fiance’s two children in an imposing and remote mountain lodge. Just as the tensions between Grace and the children begin to thaw, strange and frightening events begin to take place.

There is a whole lot of spooky going on in “The Lodge,” and the best part is that you absolutely have no clue what’s coming. The film does a hell of a job setting up an effective haunting plot. All of the incidents, symbols and scares appear to indicate a ghostly presence and the viewer immediately begins to steel themselves for a particular brand of scare.

What makes “The Lodge” so damn interesting is that just as soon as you get comfortable with the direction you’re being taken in, the film reveals a new twist that complicates things further. A ghost is scary enough. A ghost with heavy religious undertones targeting the survivor of a religious suicide cult? That’s really spooky.

The film relies heavily on images of the Madonna, and it’s honestly such a perfect choice, it deserves its own breakdown. The Madonna is the divine mother. She is both the embodiment of the Church itself and the patron saint of all motherhood and women. She is viewed as a protector. As the film progresses, we begin to read the image of the Madonna in different ways. Is she truly the protector or the warning of a vindictive, maternal presence?

“The Lodge” seems to share a tie to films like “Hereditary” and “The Witch” and, if that’s the case, they make one hell of a horror family. All three films operate within suffocating tension and anxiety. All films place their characters in isolation and at the mercy of outside forces. The films show the tension of a fractured family dynamic, how quickly we devolve when pushed, and how little it takes to embrace the evil that threatens. The trio make a sort of Unholy Trinity of horror.

In the third act, “The Lodge” goes from a delicious slow burn to all-out horror. Every visceral nightmare you have and every grating paranoia is brought to bear and the film is constantly pushing the limits of what the audience can take. The film’s twist feels less like a twist and more like your head being wrenched off. Well done.

“The Lodge” is haunting, chilling, deceptive and so damn bleak. The heaviness of it rests on you as you exit the theater. Why can’t more films be like that?

The Lodge

“The Lodge” hits theaters on February 7, 2020, but in the meantime, catch it at Fantastic Fest 2019 on Monday, September 23, at 8 p.m.

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