Saturday, February 02, 2019

Sundance ’19: The Lodge

Step-parenting is always a tricky proposition, but it is especially so for Grace. As the sole survivor of a suicidal death cult, she has sort of already lost one “family.” Her prospective stepson and stepdaughter are less than thrilled to welcome her into their family. It is hard to form a conclusive judge about them or her in Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala’s The Lodge, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Grace’s father was the charismatic leader of an apocalyptic Christian cult that committed mass-suicide Hale-Bopp-style. She was left behind to tell their tale, like the characters left standing at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Should that make us trust her more or less?

Regardless, Richard fell for her hard while writing a retrospective piece on the cult. Aidan and Mia were already seriously unhappy with his decision to take up with Grace, but when their mother Laura is suddenly ushered out of the movie, Grace becomes the focus of their hard feelings. Hoping to bring peace to their awkward family unit, Richard books a getaway vacation at an isolated mountain lodge. Right, what could go wrong—aside from Richard getting called back to work just before a severe storm cuts off Grace and the two resentful children from the outside world?

Maybe Grace is a victim in all this, or maybe not, but either way, her cult backstory is massively creepy. Franz & Fiala frequently return to images of the mass suicide, which are especially disturbing, because they deliberately emulate news footage of the Heaven’s Gate cult. It is arguably exploitative, but undeniably effective.

In fact, The Lodge is consistently unsettling because of its uncertainties, starting first and foremost with the true nature of Grace’s character. Riley Keough’s subtle, ambiguous performance gives viewer plenty to support any interpretation. Likewise, as Aidan and Mia, Jaeden Lieberher and Lia McHugh make two of the most suspicious and intense kids to appear on film since the off-the-rails twins in Franz & Fiala’s Goodnight Mother.

If you want to get technical, there are probably some serious logical issues within The Lodge, but Franz & Fiala’s command of mood and atmosphere is so strong, we don’t even notice in the moment. The chills are further heightened by Thimios Bakatakis’s appropriately icy cinematography. However, the recurring use of a dollhouse motif is probably a mistake, because it automatically brings to mind comparisons to Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Recommended for fans of high-end horror, The Lodge screens again today (2/2), as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.