'The Lodge' Review: The Next Great Horror Film Is Here, And It's Terrifying [Sundance]

It seems like every year, we get at least one film heralded as "the next great horror movie." Sometimes, that assessment is overblown. But sometimes, it's spot-on. This year's next great horror film is The Lodge, and I am entirely confident in that assessment. It's going to be nearly impossible for any other fright flick this year to top the atmospheric dread and abject terror on display here. An icy cold mix of The Shining and religious mania run wild, The Lodge opens with a bang, and never lets up. Take it from someone who doesn't scare easy: The Lodge is scary as hell.

I'll have to tread lightly here, because so much of The Lodge's power comes from mystery. The audience I saw the film with more or less lost their minds every other scene, as one shocking, unexpected moment after another played out before our eyes. While avoiding big spoilers, I can tell you this: The Lodge follows two siblings – Aidan (It actor Jaeden Lieberher) and his little sister Mia (Lia McHugh). The pair are furious that their father (Richard Armitage), recently separated from their mother (Alicia Silverstone), is planning to marry a new, younger woman.

That younger woman is Grace, and for the opening chunk of The Lodge, she remains a mystery. In these early scenes, we never get a good look at her. She appears out-of-focus, or disguised in silhouette, heightening the mystery. In doing research on their potential step-mother, the siblings learn that Grace grew up in a religious doomsday cult, and that the experience traumatized her greatly. All this set-up immediately paints a dark and twisted picture of Grace, which makes her first real appearance all the more disarming. When she finally shows up on screen, as played by Riley Keough, she seems perfectly normal. More than that, she seems very polite and kind.

Grace very badly wants to make the children like her, and when the opportunity to spend some time with them in the family's secluded cabin during Christmas springs up, Grace seizes on it. Again and again, she tries her hardest to break the ice – but the children refuse to thaw. Mia treats her with indifference, while Aidan is downright rude. When dear old dad has to head back to the city for work, Grace and the siblings are left alone together in the cabin, just as a huge snowstorm kicks in. And that's really all I'm going to tell you! From here, The Lodge drags you towards doom, with Keough's Grace growing more and more unhinged as the snow piles up.

The Lodge hails from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, the duo who directed the German horror film Goodnight Mommy. I was not a fan – the visuals were effectively creepy, but the script was painfully obvious. With The Lodge, the team have ironed out all the Goodnight Mommy problems to craft a singular work of atmospheric horror. The overall feeling of dread here is pervasive to the extreme. The dread on display here seeps into your bones like a winter chill, and you just can't shake it. Long, slow zooms and lonely wide-shots create a disorienting mental state in the viewer, knocking us for a loop and leaving us constantly on guard for whatever might come next.

Set design is a huge key in making all of this work. The location we spend most of the film in looks unnatural – rooms are cramped, ceilings seem too low. It's as if the building is closing in. And of course, those rooms are often shrouded in darkness. Who knows what can be lurking in that pools of shadow? In keeping with the film's focus on religion – not only does Grace come from a religious background, but the siblings themselves seem surprisingly devout in their prayers – there's an incredibly creepy painting of a shrouded female saint, the paint making up her face peeling. Time after time, the filmmakers slowly zoom in on this icon, and while it really is just a painting – it doesn't spring to life like the Nun in The Conjuring 2, don't worry – it never fails to chill.

Equally chilling is Keough's performance. The increasingly busy actress has a real knack for subtly playing up Grace's mental state, and you'll find yourself tensing up as you watch her grow more and more distressed. Even when things begin to get really terrible, we never lose sympathy for Grace. She's no Jack Torrance, driven mad and violent by his addictions. She's just someone who was trying her hardest, and doing her best. If only those damn kids had just given her a chance.

I hate to come across as hyperbolic with films like The Lodge, and I'm sure there will be some viewers put-off by how languidly the film is paced, and how close to the vest it plays its cards. But I'm a hardened horror viewer, and while I love the genre with all my heart, I very rarely find a film that actually effects me on an emotional level. I'm always on the lookout for a movie that I find truly scary, and with the Lodge, I've definitely found it. This movie lingers long after the credits roll. After the conclusion, I stumbled out of the dark theater into the sunlight, disoriented, excited, and, yes, a little scared. As long as more movies are like The Lodge, the horror genre will be in great shape.

/Film rating: 9 out of 10