At Sundance, Dominic Corry enters The Lodge, the latest horror from the Austrians behind Goodnight Mommy, starring Danny and Riley Keough.

How do I do this? Do I go over the top? Do I do a just crazy psychotic thing?” —⁠Danny Keough

Park City, Utah: The film at Sundance 2019 that made the biggest impression on this humble Letterboxd correspondent was undoubtedly The Lodge, the new horror from Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. The film is the pair’s English-language debut, and an eagerly anticipated follow-up to their acclaimed 2014 film, Goodnight Mommy.

Like Goodnight Mommy, The Lodge predominantly takes place in one location. In this case, it’s an isolated, cosy, wooden family holiday home next to a frozen lake. It’s owned by divorcé Richard (Richard Armitage from The Hobbit trilogy), who is father to teen Aiden (Jaeden Lieberher from It, credited here as Jaeden Martel) and the younger Mia (Lia McHugh).

Richard’s children are resentful of the new woman in their father’s life, Grace (Logan Lucky and American Honey actress Riley Keough). Aiden and Mia are doubly suspicious of Grace due to her having been, as a child, the soul-surviving member of a doomsday cult that committed mass suicide, a subject Richard writes about.

Wanting his kids to bond with Grace, Richard arranges for the three of them to spend some time alone together at the lodge before Christmas while he stays in the city to finish up work for the year.

As Grace, Aiden and Mia get to know each other in the lodge, strange things start occurring. While The Lodge is wonderfully creepy on multiple levels, what really sets it apart is its artful composure and excruciating tension, making it a work that goes far beyond Franz and Fiala’s impressive debut.

Following the Sundance press screening, Letterboxd asked Franz and Fiala if there were any lessons they learned about subverting audience expectations from the twisty Goodnight Mommy that they may have applied to this film.

“We try not to overthink it in a way,” responded Fiala. “It’s not all that planned. I think we always try to make a film that we ourselves would like to see, and we try to take it seriously. But it’s not that we think: okay, we did this before, this time the audience is gonna expect this or that or something like that. I think we always try to stay true to the material and the characters.”

“And there are similarities to our first one,” Fiala continued. “I think mainly because it’s the things that interest us in life. It was not like a conscious decision: it worked the first time so we’re gonna do it like that this time. It was just like, we’re still interested in those questions of family and trauma and bondage in a way. Emotional bonds. Trust that’s been shaken, I think that’s something that really interests us.”

“This time it’s also about religion, in a way, which we didn’t do last time,” added Franz. “The script, it was offered to us by Hammer Films, it was originally written by a Scottish screenwriter [Sergio Casci], and so we kind of re-wrote it in a way, because the ending didn’t work. For us.”

That’s right, The Lodge was produced by Hammer, the legendary British horror production outfit best known for churning out Dracula and Frankenstein films starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the 1960s and 70s. The brand was resurrected a decade or so back and has released about half a dozen films since then, including Let Me In (2010), Wake Wood (2011) and The Woman In Black (2012). With The Lodge, a British-produced film directed by two Austrians, shot in Canada and set in the United States, Hammer may just have its first modern classic on its hands.

Franz went on to emphasize the importance of the shooting location in telling their story. “For us, the house, architecture, it’s like a character. And as it was our first English-speaking film, you know, it’s a lodge, it’s three persons or four actors and it’s something you can handle in a way, or you hope you can at least.”

Some of the creepiest parts of the film are Grace’s flashbacks to her life in the aforementioned doomsday cult, the leader of which was her father. To make it even weirder, that cult leader is played by Riley Keough’s actual father, musician Danny Keough, in his first feature film role.

The Lodge cast and crew at the film’s Sundance 2019 premiere.
The Lodge cast and crew at the film’s Sundance 2019 premiere.

“We were desperately looking for a cult priest, and couldn’t find someone who would be perfect for the part,” explained Franz. “We were already shooting and in one of the breaks, Riley FaceTimed Danny and she wanted to introduce us. She turned the mobile [phone] around and said, ‘Look, this is my father,’ and Severin and I were like, ‘Oh, he’s the cult priest!’.”

Keough Sr. was also present at the post-screening Q&A, and was asked what he drew upon in playing a cult leader.

“Um, I grew up in a cult,” was Keough’s response. “So I had eight years of study. We had a really wicked guy that… yeah, so… when they asked me to do it I thought ‘How do I do this? Do I go over the top? Do I do a just crazy psychotic thing?’ But that’s never the case, it’s always a Jesus-like syndrome, I don’t know what you’d call that. Underneath is a real hatred. So what I tried to do during that role was just play this real sweet guy, but if you look closely enough, you can see that he really just wants to kill you.”

Indie specialist distributor Neon (Colossal, Gemini, I, Tonya) acquired The Lodge at Sundance and will release it theatrically later this year.


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