Why 'The Lodge' Directors Severin Fiala And Veronika Franz Feel The Need To "Apologize" For Their Dark Horror Movie [Interview]

/Film's own Jacob Hall said it best when he described The Lodge as "the feel-bad horror movie of [the year]." Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz double down on the isolation and bleakness from Goodnight Mommy to create an experience that will fill you with dread as it keeps your head spinning and your jaw on the floor. The story jumps right into one hell of a shockingly devastating prologue, which leaves Richard (Richard Armitage) in charge of his two kids (played by Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) whom he is taking to their mountain lodge for the holidays. Also along for the ride is Richard's fiancée, Grace (Riley Keough). The kids don't really like her, but Richard soon leaves them alone to get to know each other while he attends some business. Of course, the nice family trip becomes a tale of paranoia, dread, and perhaps something supernatural and murderous? In any way, it is unlike any American horror movie you have seen this year, which is exactly what Fiala and Franz knew producers feared.Following the film's Spanish premiere at the Sitges International Film Festival last October, we talked to Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz about crafting such a twisted and bleak tale, dealing with American producers and audiences, and why they began their introduction of the movie by apologizing to everyone.You started the screening by apologizing your mothers, to the producers, to the audience, and everyone. At what point during production did you settle on having this feeling of dread throughout the movie?Severin Fiala: We try to make films that we ourselves would like to see in cinema, and those are films that might be disturbing, or even films that will hurt you. In think that's just something we want to experience ourselves. I think you can't plan on making a film just to make people feel bad. We actually started out with a feeling that this would be a very commercial and sort of normal horror movie, and producers thought the same. But as we started writing and rewriting, we started thinking that this might be a bit less commercial that what we started with. Veronika Franz: We realized that it was really depressing and though to watch [laughs]. We have a film festival in Vienna called Slash film festival, and they opened 10 years ago with The Road. When we went there to present our film we said 'This is the most depressing film since The Road, and you chose to play it.' And we really like that movie and it is also very apocalyptical and bleak. Severin: I think the original script felt a bit more conventional because it didn't take the story seriously. We loved the story but we were interested in what this story would look like if it were real, if we took it as a serious and very real thing. The original script also ended with a twist. We felt like we were not as interested in that twist but in what came afterwards, that was our starting point. Then we started rewriting the ending and then we ended up rewriting everything to make our ending work. You mention taking the story seriously, and one fascinating aspect of the story is how much it keeps you guessing as to the nature of the events happening. How do you balance that?Veronika: I think the silence helps a lot to create that mystery. Because a lot of conventional horror movies use massive sound design and quick pacing.Severin: It's usually because the producers or filmmakers are afraid the audience might be bored. We're not afraid of that. We know for some people it [the movie] might be boring and for others it works really well because we tried to give it the time and the space it needs, but also the emotions. It all goes back to that house, that location. I think the lodge works as a place because we thought about it a lot, how to shoot it. And if you cut it or pace it very quickly you won't get this atmosphere and this feeling of dread in this house. Severin: We also shot the film like Goodnight Mommy, in chronological order, which was super strange for American producers. It takes more time and less efficient in a technical way, but for the actors it let them grow into the story. For us it's like hiking. When you start you ask how far can you go? And then if you ask me at the beginning of the day, I may say 10 kilometers, but as the day goes on you might end up walking much further than expected. So, if you shoot it in the right order you might end up further and in a darker place than originally imagined.Veronika: When we write a script, or rewrite one, we always think of scenes. If they have much dialogue, we always think could we tell the same thing with no dialogue? So we always try to kind of avoid too much talking, and this has the effect of creating a bigger mystery than you'd usually have. I like that because of the silence people have to fill in the gaps with their own thoughts of feelings, or interpretations. And this is also something American producers are not used to because we like an audience who has questions, but they are always afraid someone ends up with a question. Everyone sees the movie different anyway, and we are not interested in making this one formula that works for everyone. There are better people to do than us, so we like to play with the audience, ask them questions and have them as questions. We like that game.Talk about the house, did you find it? Or did you have to build some of the sets?Veronika: It's a real location, and it took us very long to find it. We almost could not make the film because it was so very late in the game that we found the house, something like two weeks before the first shooting day.Severin: I think what made it so complicated to find this place was that we felt we needed something that was real, as opposed to building a place. We needed a house that was actually really isolated, which made it hard to find it but we think it really helps the atmosphere to have actors not going around a soundstage but a real empty place that's cold and dark. Veronika: And it was funny because also it was something the producers were not used to. For them it was important that the house looks isolated, if there was a highway or other neighbors, they don't care. They started showing us houses that were not what we considered isolated. Because the house is a character in the film, and it needs good casting. For us it was an extension of the mother. This is kind of this Rebecca theme [the Hitchcock movie] about this person who is absent but still a looming presence. We did that through all the religious symbolism in the house, belonging to the mother, and also this character who has a religious past.**From now on, there are spoilers for the film. You've been warned. **One thing I really liked is that compared to Goodnight Mommy, you don't go back and explain everything with a montage. How did you come to that conclusion and how much did you want to explain to the audience?Veronika: We tried to show as much as we thought would not reveal too much. So you see them doing research on the computer, or playing with the doll house, we even show Mia talking to her dad on the phone, you pretty much see everything. Severin: But of course, you don't know what you're seeing. Going back to your introduction to the film, you apologized to your mothers, and motherhood and children seem to be a big theme in your movies. What is it about kids in horror movies that you keep wanting to explore?Veronika: We actually like kids, because they have an innocence to them, and at the same time every kid does bad things. They may break something or hurt each other on purpose. But we like the ambiguity of them being innocence because they are kids and they're not fully aware of what they're doing. For example, I personally don't like the kids Guillermo del Toro has in his movies, because they're always these innocent little angels. Severin: The problem is when the kids are either really evil kids, or pure angels. And we feel that real world kids are sort of in-between, or both. They're innocent but also do bad things. We show things as we feel they are, even if it's kind of a taboo. Like the mother in Goodnight Mommy. I think also mothers in film are either very, very, very evil or they're just like the Virgin Mary. Veronika: As to your question of why we apologized, it's because I think we wanted to do a horror film without one bad guy, without a monster. We wanted to show people being both good and bad, guilty and not guilty. And I think it's the combination of all of it and the lack of communication that creates the tragedy or the horror. We like that you always see shades of gray. You should not know from the first scene who you should like or not like because of the character being the good guy or not. We want you to like everyone and also at certain moments dislike them. That definitely comes across in the movie, where you see a character doing despicable things but kind of see where they may not realize how awful what they're doing really is.Veronika: And in the end, they want to take it back. They realize that they went too far when the dog dies. They try to put it back together but it's too late. For us what makes the story tragic is that they wanted to create kind of a purgatory for Grace, kind of to help, but in the end they all end up together in purgatory.