While at the Sundance Film Festival, this writer had the opportunity to take in a ton of great genre films while in Park City, and here’s a look at my thoughts on a trio of terror-filled offerings that fans should keep an eye out for this year: The Lodge, The Hole in the Ground, and Wounds.
The Lodge: When it comes to crafting nerve-shredding horror, filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala proved with Goodnight Mommy that they definitely know a thing or two about terrorizing audiences, and for their follow-up project, The Lodge, the duo once again deliver up a haunting and unnerving examination of psychological trauma and parental conflicts, albeit in some very different ways this time around.
The Lodge follows siblings Aidan (Jaeden Lieberher from 2017's IT) and Mia (Lia McHugh) as they set out to spend a few days leading up to the Christmas holiday with their dad’s new fiancée, Grace (Riley Keough), who happens to be the sole survivor of a doomsday cult led by her father who committed suicide alongside his followers. The excursion is meant to bring everyone together, but the youngsters are none too thrilled with daddy’s choice for a new wife, and do whatever they can to make her life a living hell. And just when it seems like things can’t get any worse, they head straight to hell in a handbasket when the trio are trapped amidst a major winter storm and are forced to survive against insurmountable odds.
Much like they did with Goodnight Mommy, Fiala and Franz set out to shatter some psyches, and boy do they ever hit new heights as storytellers with their efforts on The Lodge (and I say that as someone who loved Goodnight Mommy), resulting in a horrifically oppressive excursion into isolating terror and dread. The tension rippling throughout The Lodge is palpable, and the directing duo once again utilize both their production and sound design to maximum effort in their latest film (seriously, the angular structures and lines in every single setting really set a tone of unease from the start, and it continues until the story’s bitter end). The story takes some very compelling twists and turns, the performances from Keough and Lieberher are both top-notch, and I have yet to be able to shake off the film’s shocking final moments over the last few weeks.
Movie Score: 4/5
The Hole in the Ground: Over the last few years, we’ve seen some great horror films helmed by talented Irish filmmakers, and Lee Cronin’s The Hole in the Ground is yet another example of just how exciting the genre landscape is over on that side of the world. Because it’s centered around a creepy kid, there will probably be a lot of comparisons between this project and the recently released The Prodigy to come over the next few weeks when Ground gets released, but ultimately, Cronin blazes his own path with the ambitious story he co-penned with Stephen Shields, and his debut feature makes for an intriguing introduction to the up-and-coming director.
In The Hole in the Ground, we’re introduced to Sarah (Seána Kerslake), a mother who has fled her abusive marriage and taken her young son, Chris (James Quinn Markey), in tow. They uproot their lives and relocate to a broken-down house in the middle of the woods, eager to forget the horrors of their past. But one night, Chris goes missing, and then miraculously shows up out of nowhere, leaving Sarah with an uneasy feeling that her son isn’t really her son anymore. She sets out to figure out just what happened to the tyke that night in the woods, and what exactly it is that is pretending to be this adorable little kid.
As someone who appreciates a creepy kid movie that can bring something new to the table, I really enjoyed myself throughout The Hole in the Ground. Cronin and Shields establish a bone-chilling mythology that works incredibly well here, and while Kerslake is excellent as the embattled mother who will stop at nothing to be reunited with her son, Markey delivers a breakout performance here, and he really holds his own. My only quibble with The Hole in the Ground is that it ends up overexplaining things in its final scenes, taking away some of the narrative’s mysteries, but overall, it’s a helluva first film from Cronin, who shows great promise here.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
Wounds: Whoo boy. Wounds—what a movie. It’s been a few weeks since I saw the film, and I’ve still yet to reconcile just what exactly Babak Anvari unleashed upon viewers with his second feature (his debut feature, Under the Shadow, premiered at Sundance a few years ago). Based on Nathan Ballingrud’s novella The Visible Filth, Wounds is like a mish-mash of psychological horror, body horror, and J-horror (with thousands of cockroaches thrown in for good measure), resulting in Anvari creating one of the most unpredictable efforts of this year’s midnight section of the fest.
Wounds starts off simply enough, as we meet New Orleans bartender Will (Armie Hammer), who spends his nights slinging drinks at a neighborhood dive bar, chatting up regulars (including Zazie Beetz) and breaking up bar fights. When a group of college kids end up in his establishment and leave behind a cell phone after a rough night, Will snatches up the phone out of sheer curiosity. But as he begins to poke around the device with the help of his girlfriend, Carrie (Dakota Johnson), a lot of weird crap begins happening all around him, leaving Will to wonder if there’s something more sinister going on with the mysterious phone than just some forgetful kids “accidentally” losing track of it that fateful night.
If I’m being perfectly honest, there is a lot going on in Wounds—most of it I definitely understood and connected with, but some of it, I am still processing even now. That being said, I absolutely love when directors take chances, and Anvari really pulls all his punches with Wounds, and its unbelievably skin-crawling finale is one that genre fans will be talking about for years to come. As much as it leans into all its genre elements, at its core, Wounds also makes for a uniquely compelling character study of a man who cannot get past his own ego and destructive nature, ultimately leading him on a path of self-ruination, and Hammer absolutely gives 110 percent to the increasingly maddening role, proving that he’s one of the more interesting actors working today, as he always makes such interesting choices with the roles he tackles.
There’s no doubt that Wounds might end up being something of a polarizing effort from Anvari, but I really appreciate just how unabashedly fearless he is with his second movie. I’m someone who always prefers to watch something from a director who embraces chaos and isn’t afraid to go completely off the rails than a filmmaker who plays it safe, and there’s nothing easy or safe about Wounds. Also, as someone who has serious issues with watching cockroaches in movies (I’m a wuss, I know, but I always fast forward that infamous Creepshow segment), Wounds seriously left me with a huge case of the heebie-jeebies, and there’s no doubt that those little buggers are going to stick with me for a very long time.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
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