Sundance 2019: “The Lodge”

“The Lodge” opens with a slow, meandering shot that peeks around the rooms of a dark house until we see a pair of giant eyes peering in through the windows, which breaks the spell and reveals that the interior is actually a dollhouse. It’s a powerful set up that leads us into a haunting tale of divorce, suicide and claustrophobic dread.

We follow the somewhat mundane Richard (Richard Armitage) who informs his estranged wife Laura (Alicia Silverstone) that he is marrying another woman, which is news that leads to Laura’s shocking suicide via the barrel of a shotgun. Their kids, Aiden (Jaeden Lieberher) and Mia (Lia McHugh) have yet to recover from her death when Richard suddenly announces that he is marrying another woman.

Veronika Franz, director of The Lodge, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The new girlfriend Grace (Riley Keough) happens to be the sole survivor of an evangelical cult and the subject of Richard’s latest book. While the kids hold no interest in having Grace replace their beloved mother, Richard decides to take everyone to the family’s lodge, thereby guaranteeing an opportunity for everyone to bond, or not, as the case may be. The kids begrudgingly agree, and the stakes are effectively raised when their father splits from the cabin for a couple of days to work.

Left alone in the wilderness, Grace seems keen to get along with her adoptive siblings, but when she awakes one morning to discover everything in the lodge is gone—including her medication—things turn supernatural as an unseen presence seemingly haunts the remote dwelling.

Severin Fiala, director of The Lodge, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Grace quickly loses her mind without her medication, revealing a woman deeply disturbed by childhood experiences in her father’s evangelical cult. We see visions from her crazed perspective, that are powerful, including one creepy shot of a vast, empty field of snow angels while staring blankly out of a window, presumably made by those dead cult members. Grace also walks the cabin at night, sleepwalking around on creaky floors of the dim lodge.

Trapped in a dark home with a white blizzard outside, the overall sense of dread and entrapment holds true throughout the picture with powerful framing from cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis. There’s also a twist revealed towards the end of the story, although the open-ended wrap left some audience members quipping, “Is that it?” Nonetheless, it’s a claustrophobic cinematic experience like no other at Sundance this year.

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