Arriving in theaters this weekend is The Lodge, the latest film collaboration between directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, the team behind Goodnight Mommy. Recently, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with them about their involvement with the Hammer production, and how they worked to remove any of the initial “fun” that had been in an earlier version of the script. Fiala and Franz also discussed collaborating with Riley Keough, whose journey in The Lodge propels the story into some dark places, their desire to keep everything as authentic as possible throughout production, and how their DP, Thimios Bakatakis, helped elevate the thematic elements The Lodge explores on a narrative level.
Great to speak with you both today. With The Lodge, there are the issues of blending families and kids not adapting well to that, especially while dealing with grief, but there’s also isolation and these things about our past that come back to haunt us. How did you approach handling all these different thematic elements that really come together very nicely here?
Severin Fiala: Thank you. There is a lot going on [laughs]. But after Goodnight Mommy, which was unexpectedly successful for us, we got a lot of manuscripts from the US, most of them involving evil twins. And we actually had a script already finished, for like for a period piece, but we couldn't get it financed. We were going to shoot it this summer. So, we didn't have anything going on, and then, at one point we had a script on our desks that said Untitled Hammer Thriller. And we’re both in love with all the ’50s and ’60s Hammer horror movies, so we hoped so much that we would like the script and we actually did. It had a lot of the themes we like to explore when we’re writing a script. However, the tone, it was super fun for a movie in a way, with very fun dialogue. So, we worked with the author to get rid of all the fun [laughs].
Oh yeah, I would not categorize this as fun in any way, shape, or form, but that's okay. I don't think it needed to be. In fact, I think it's very devastating in a lot of ways, which I really appreciated because I feel like when you can marry really good drama with genre elements, it can make for some powerful storytelling, and I think you guys really nailed it here.
Veronika Franz: Yeah, we always take the characters very, very seriously. And if they behave in a way because the script wants them to, we never do that. We try to always ask ourselves, "What would the characters do?" And even if it's more difficult or more challenging than how the script goes, we would go there.
Severin Fiala: Which is why it might feel unexpected or harder to predict for people watching it, which is all those things that we like. If you follow the characters, they sometimes don't fit an established pattern or a formula that many horror films use, but actually that's also one of our goals, not to fulfill those patterns.
Veronika Franz: And actually, we think a horror film is such a great opportunity to tell something about us, about society, about fears we have, about traumas maybe, or problems over the very suspenseful or a film full of tension. You can do that and people will still watch it.
Severin Fiala: All the great horror films are great dramas and great tragedies. We totally agree with you there. And we're very glad that you think our film goes in the same direction, or it goes up the same alley.
I’d love if you could discuss working with Riley on her character, because Grace has gone through a lot already when we meet her, and she goes to some very dark places towards the end of the film. And yet, there's a level of empathy that comes along with her character, and I feel like the way it was presented here was something that I really hadn't seen before.
Severin Fiala: Totally agreed on that. And we knew that and Riley knew that. She was worried that the journey her character takes was a very difficult one, because she has to hit every mark in a way that it still is plausible. And in order to help her walking down the path, we shot the whole film in sequence, not only to help her, but to help us, in order to really make this journey and watch every step we take. We felt it would help all the actors, actually, and could benefit their performances so much that we fought for that a lot.
Also, when it comes to where the film ends, the very dark place that you spoke about, we felt it would be so hard if you start shooting with the ending, for example, because then, it's only you guessing where this film might end up. So we felt like, "Okay, let's all take each other's hand and walk into this abyss in a way and see where we end up." And that only worked because Riley and us and everyone involved really trusted each other.
Veronika Franz: And we have to say she's a very, very honest, fragile, sensitive person. And so for us, she was a gift. The other day she said what we didn't know when we started to work with her, but she said what was a challenge for her is to bring her own anxieties she also has inside of her personally to bring to the film and to be able to control them.
As much as these characters are front and center to the movie, the location almost becomes a character in itself as well, through the cinematography and everything. Can you talk a little bit about capturing the isolation and these really heavy feelings through the primary locale and working with your cinematographer?
Veronika Franz: Yeah, it was really cold. Usually if you shoot a film like that in the studio, you don't feel cold because it's not cold. We even tried to lower the temperature, which the unions didn't like too much, actually. So, the next day they were there and said that we are crazy because we lowered the heating.
Severin Fiala: For us, we wanted to have as many things real as possible. We wanted to shoot in a real place that's really isolated in the real cold because I think if you get many things real, that really helps the actors in a lot of ways. It also really helps the whole atmosphere of the movie and the house, for example, as you said is a character of itself. That was also very important to us. Also, the house was a character in our first film, too. This time, the house feels like an extension of the kids’ mother, who is not in the lodge with the family. Yet, she is in some way because many of the things and those religious items, they've belonged to her and in that time, we think of it as a haunted house movie. It's like the mother watching those people in the house, watching the kids, watching the new girl.
Veronika Franz: Like the Rebecca motif.
Severin Fiala: Yeah, it's like Rebecca, which is why we never shot at eye level, but always from above or from below, like weird angles as if somebody was watching those people, and that somebody might be the mother.
Veronika Franz: And really, with the house, we also wanted to create this in-between world, where it’s in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of snow, so it feels a little bit surreal.
Severin Fiala: Our cinematographer was Thimios Bakatakis, who has worked on several Yorgos Lanthimos [films], so we felt he was the perfect collaborator on The Lodge. On the one hand, he's always using natural light, and he’s also very brave when it comes to using darkness. So it's not artificial what he does, and he's very much about textures and real things. The way that he films, it has a surreal touch somehow, and we felt his approach was super accurate for what we wanted to achieve with the film.
Visit our online hub to catch up on our previous coverage of The Lodge.