The 400-Word Review: The Lodge

This gripping, brutal horror movie makes terrifying use of its wintry setting.

PHOTO BY BERTRAND CALMEAU / NEON

Wintry, remote outposts are among the most natural settings for terror. When the elements themselves provide an obstacle, confinement seems all the more absolute; no matter how intimidating the human horrors on the inside become, they rarely outweigh the prospect of freezing to death in miles of frigid darkness.

In “The Lodge,” a smart, creeping film from Austrian directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, two children find themselves in a remote house with their father’s new fiancee. Bunking with the woman they see as their mother’s usurper is, to put it mildly, not their ideal winter getaway.

The fact that the woman in question is the only survivor of a fanatical religious cult makes things considerably more frightening.

“The Lodge,” a deft, vivid work of careful horror, is the English-language debut of Fiala and Franz. It shares some thematic and symbolic material with their acclaimed 2014 film, “Goodnight Mommy,” but “The Lodge” easily outpaces the pair’s earlier effort in tension, atmosphere and pure horror.

The children — Aidan (Jaeden Lieberher) and Mia (Lia McHugh) — blame their future stepmother, Mia (Riley Keough) for breaking the family up. Their birth mother (Alicia Silverstone) doesn’t take the news of her ex’s engagement well; nevertheless, Dad (Richard Armitage) is determined to stoke some bonding during a Christmas holiday. (This determination is in spite of the fact that he himself will have to leave for several days.)

Those are the constituent parts; what “The Lodge” does with them is unexpected and repeatedly shocking. It should be clear that this film is brutal, unflinching and fearless; the story broaches any number of troubling topics, and audiences with sensitivities to certain content will have a difficult time making it to the film’s stunning conclusion.

This is not, however, a case of callous treatment from the filmmakers. Fiala and Franz, along with co-screenwriter Sergio Casci, have produced a remarkably artful film. The writing deftly hands protagonist duties off between Mia and the children; the cinematography, by Thimios Bakatakis, makes excellent use of confining, oppressive space.

Fiala and Franz have an abiding love of visual metaphors. They linger on an Alka-Seltzer tablet dissolving in water, or the static smile on a doll’s face. It’s a hypnotic technique. It also makes it all the more shocking when the most consequential items — a hidden weapon, a figure in the shadows — remain concealed until the most desperate possible moment.

My Rating: 9/10

“The Lodge” expands to Pittsburgh theaters Friday, Feb. 21.

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