Back in 2014, I was just starting out with Nightmarish Conjurings and decided to go see a horror movie that had begun to pick up some buzz titled Goodnight Mommy. Not only did the movie end up traumatizing me from ever wanting to have kids, but it also introduced me to the talents of co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. Hailing from Austria, the duo has begun to make a name for themselves with their grim and horrific films that easily conjure visions of nightmare fuel in realistic settings.
In THE LODGE, their sophomore follow-up to Goodnight Mommy, Grace (Riley Keough), a soon-to-be stepmom is snowed in with her fiance’s two children (Jaeden Lieberher & Lia McHugh) at a remote lodge after their father (Richard Armitage) is forced to abruptly depart for work. Isolated and alone, a blizzard traps them inside the lodge as terrifying events summon specters from Grace’s dark past.
For the upcoming release of the film, I had the chance to speak with both Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz about their latest film. During our chat, we discussed everything from researching cults to the impeccable casting as well as the character design of the lodge itself.
To start things off, how did THE LODGE come to be?
Veronika Franz: Unfortunately, that’s a boring answer (laughs). We usually write our films ourselves and we had planned, after Goodnight Mommy, to do a period piece in Austria but as it was, it was hard to finance. After the success of Goodnight Mommy, we got lots of scripts mostly with evil twins in it (laughs). Finally, there came another script which was untitled and was submitted by Hammer Film Productions. We are huge fans of Hammer Films, the old Hammer Films, and we were very excited to read it. It was a nice horror film with witty dialogue and we started to work with the screenwriter, a Scottish screenwriter named Sergio Casci, to remove all the wit and sun so that you could feel uneasy (laughs).
One thing I noticed was that when the viewer is first introduced to the character of Grace (Riley Keough), her appearance is mostly hidden until the family arrives at the Lodge. Was there a reason behind doing this?
Severin Fiala: Yes, very good that you saw that.
Veronika Franz: We liked her being the “ghost” at the beginning or the scary shadow.
Severin Fiala: We created the perspective from the kids [view] and for Grace, she’s a new girlfriend and somebody who is scary and threatening their lives in a way. We decided to show her as this ominous threat because we were sharing the perspective of the children. Grace is more or less someone [the kids] talk about but she’s absent. She’s like a threat about to come on to the family in a way.
Such an important aspect of the film is the relationship and bond between Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) who are brother and sister. What was the process like in finding the right actors for those roles?
Severin Fiala: Jaeden we had seen in films and wanted him specifically for the part, unfortunately, he didn’t want that (laughs). His management was concerned [about it being] another horror film. It took quite some time to convince him that this wasn’t like the next classical, typical horror movie. We showed him Goodnight Mommy, our first film, and managed to convince him. We don’t know how we did though (laughs).
Veronika Franz: We are weird people and he likes weird people (laughs).
Severin Fiala: [For the role of Mia], we auditioned many, many, many girls for that part but we felt that the energy she had would be great to match with Jaeden, who’s character is more shy and introverted. We wanted to improvise a lot of their dynamics, it was one of the key elements. If [Mia] were to be too introverted as well, I think it might have been very static and more difficult to tell the story in a conversational manner. In regards to their bond, they are all great actors and we knew they would come very well prepared when it came to knowing the script and the characters. However, one thing that they cannot prepare for is being brother and sister if they don’t know each other. We had them spend as much time together doing activities like rock climbing, ice skating, so that they could bond and convincingly be brother and sister and know each other inside and out.
The movie deals with a cult that is very similar to Heaven’s Gate. Did you do a lot of research into cults to prepare for the film?
Veronika Franz: Yes, we did and it was a lot of fun actually (laughs). We found strange snake cults which could be a whole other movie maybe. On one hand, there were all these cults and on the hand, people who survived those cults and have given interviews – yeah, it was a lot of research.
Severin Fiala: As Veronika said, it was fun but also the great part about being a filmmaker is if you are interested in a topic or are writing your script and this is part of it, then you can, without any guilt, watch all of those interviews for hours and hours and hours.
Veronika Franz: We always start with reality, something that is true, and then we kind of take it further. But that goes for, I think, all of the parts of the film.
Severin Fiala: With THE LODGE, we knew we wanted to have a real place. The production designer felt we needed to look at real lodges and inspire ourselves from reality. There are so many absurd details that we could never make up so that was all great fun looking at lots of very, very weird houses and places.
Speaking of the design of the Lodge, can you elaborate on choosing that location?
Severin Fiala: Actually, the hardest part was having the producers agree to shoot the film there because it was a real place that was really isolated with weather conditions that were weird. It was also really cold, it was about an hour and a half up north in Montreal. It was hard to convince them but once we were there the shooting conditions were great for us. We could use the [lodge] interior and exterior, we could use the nature around us, and we could be really flexible and shoot in sequence. Therefore, shooting conditions had been quite ideal but convincing everyone that it was a good idea going into this not-so-easy to control circumstance was the hard part.
Veronika Franz: We always treat houses as characters. In Goodnight Mommy, the house also played a very big part. They are as important as the actors are, so to speak. In the case of THE LODGE, the house is kind of symbolizing the absent mother. How the house looked was really important as well as how it looked back at you.
Lastly, something I found quite humorous, was there were these turkeys hanging during the Thanksgiving scene. What was the thought process behind that?
Severin Fiala: (laughs) We came up with it somehow. We are from Europe so we don’t know Thanksgiving that well, we only know it from American films…
Veronika Franz: It was already in the script because [during that scene] they only eat lasagna, they don’t eat turkey. They have Thanksgiving but they don’t eat turkey so we thought, okay, but turkeys have to be there so you can recognize Thanksgiving so we put up these weird plastic turkeys as decorations.
Severin Fiala: Then the producer said, “What if people believe it’s real turkeys? Why would they hang real turkeys?” (laughs).
For more on THE LODGE, check out our review here and make sure to see the terrifying new film from Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz when it’s released in theaters on February 7, 2020.