Is “The Lodge” the most disturbing thriller of the year? Judas Priest, I hope so.
Dark and despairing, grim and gripping, it’s not necessarily shocking. It doesn’t live or die on its “big twists.”
But it gets in your head and messes around there. Just as it was designed to do.
I can’t remember a horror movie that left me as gutted as this one.
A family has been broken. Dad (Richard Armitage) has moved out. Mom (Alicia Silverstone) weeps and struggles to put a brave face on.
But the kids (Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh) can tell. And then “broken” becomes “shattered.”
She raised the kids Catholic, and Dad faces down the avalanche of blame he’s due with utter denial. Pack your stuff, we’re going to “the lodge,” the family’s place in the frigid mountains. Grace, “the other woman” is coming.
They’ll “have some fun, get to know her a little better.”
Is he nuts? “You left Mom for a PSYCHOPATH!” Kids and their “Googling” of Dad’s paramours.
Aidan (Martell, of “Knives Out”) subjects little sister Mia (McHugh) to Internet footage of Grace’s past — “found footage” of a cult she was in.
And what do cults do? Aside from swoon over extremist political candidates?
So it isn’t just the fact that Grace is played by Riley Keough, who could be Mom’s younger, less-blonde sister, that wrecks this weekend.
It isn’t just journalist Dad’s insane abandonment of the three of them, and Grace’s little Maltese, Grady, “for work” in the dead of a very snowy winter.
It’s the kids-hate-Dad’s-new-love/kids-research-her and conflicting dogmas that drive the strife and the action — Catholic kids vs charismatic Christian cultist, children clinging to their lost mother vs Dad’s ready replacement for her.
Silence is something that’s rare in modern life, but not in the most chilling horror movies. Music-free car rides, a TV that’s rarely on (except to watch “The Thing” or “Jack Frost,” equally creepy), a big, echoey wooden two-storey surrounded by sound-muffling snow.
Things go bump, crucifixes and icons tumble and things turn chilling and…interesting.
Keough carries the weight, here, as the story is from her point of view. Is she losing it? Is her past catching up with her in a supernatural way?
Mia has a dollhouse version of “The Lodge” back home, but the existence of that doesn’t give away where this is going. Much. Martell doesn’t have to try hard to suggest pale-sullen-stalker OR withdrawn, brokenhearted son.
Like him, the movie could go either way.
Austrian co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (“Goodnight, Mommy”) keep the light low and the camera lower — emphasizing the ceilings closing in, the lodge dollhouse’s unerring mimicry of the real lodge’s construction.
But isn’t production design or great narrative artifice that gives “The Lodge” its wrenching effect. It’s the sense of loss, the idea that it’s not shared at the same intensity, that “life goes on” can be the cruelest response of all.
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violence, some bloody images, language and brief nudity
Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage and Alicia Silverstone
Credits: Directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, script by Sergio Casci, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. A Neon release.
Running time: 1:48