The Lodge, the freaky new film from Goodnight Mommy's Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, is hitting theaters very soon, and you can get general tickets for it here. But tomorrow, Alamo Drafthouse is doing a special screening with a livestream Q&A featuring the filmmakers and actor Jaeden Martell, which you can get tickets for here.
Austrians Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala are among the few successful modern writer-director duos (e.g. Coens, Wachowskis, Russos, Dardennes, Safdies), but they’re likely the only aunt/nephew pair out there. Franz has 20 years on Fiala, but you’d never guess so. The two are an iron-clad combo as aligned in their filmmaking prowess as they are in their approachability, comedic sense and thematic interests.
Their bread and butter is an engulfing, singular brand of realist, psychological horror, which they introduced with their narrative feature debut, Goodnight Mommy, and will follow up on with their first English-language film, The Lodge, starring Riley Keough, Alicia Silverstone, and Richard Armitage. To put it lightly, it’s absolutely horrifying.
We sat down with the two to chat about their new film, spoilers, thematic consistency, dogmatism, bad guys, and the dollhouse coincidence that’s involuntarily linked them to Ari Aster’s Hereditary.
BMD: Your movie is very spoiler heavy, and there's been this trend of directors asking viewers not to spoil their films. What are your thoughts on it from a director's point of view?
Franz: We don't even like the trailer because it already reveals too much.
Fiala: I think there are two answers to that question. On the one hand we try to make films that work even if you know everything about them. So even if you know all the twists, we still hope that it's a film that has enough substance to intrigue people so that—
Franz: ...So that you can watch it a second time and it's still not too boring.
Fiala: That would be the goal. But having said that, I think obviously it's always best to walk into movies completely blank not knowing anything, and that's what we would love for people to do with our film as well - to walk in without knowing anything, to discover and see something.
Franz: Because we like doing that especially. So when we go to Cannes or to a film festival, I mean we know obviously the names of the directors or the actors or whatever that we are interested in, but we try as far as possible not to know any of the twists.
Fiala: Because usually it doesn't help, right? It doesn't help if you go to a movie prepared because what good comes out of that? We are people who love surprises and who love games. I think it would work against us if we would prepare for a movie. We want to movie to kind of run over us.
Franz: Every time we read like some reviews or comments on Twitter or on the Internet we are kind of shocked when it reveals a bit too much. We think, "Oh my God, oh my God! Everybody's going to read that! Everyone will know!" So we have to keep cool in a way.
Fiala: Only 99% of them. [Both laugh]
Did you play a big role in cutting the trailer then? Did you ask them to take much out?
Franz: Yeah, we did.
Fiala: In general, we believe in producers and financiers and distributors - that they know how to sell movies. So, I think as directors sometimes you're too close and that gets in your way. That's why we need to trust people. But we collaborate and at some moments we still thought, "Okay, this could give away too much." And then of course, as always, we will say our opinions.
Franz: I'd also add that this trailer was a nice deliberation.
In my movie going experience, The Lodge audience at Sundance might've been the most reactionary audience I've ever been in. I've never heard that many audible gasps and screams.
Fiala: That's a huge compliment. That's the kind of reaction we like as an audience ourselves. We hope that a film really shakes us, confuses us, and takes our body on a ride.
Franz: Yeah, if someone trembles, that's what we want to achieve.
How long did it take you to go from pre-production to final cut?
Fiala: Maybe a year or something? The writing process took a bit longer because it was a pre-existing script and we worked with the original writer. Then, we took over and wrote a draft ourselves, which was necessary for us to really get our heads around the story and make it our own. And that was kind of a longer process than I think, at least in in Hollywood, people think is normal. So the writing process was longer, then from pre-production to the finished film was kind of normal. I mean, Blumhouse is working faster as you can imagine. But for us it was built really quickly actually.
Did you have any desire to change the cut after you watched it in an audience? Did finishing it before Sundance feel rushed?
Fiala: I mean, not the cut, not the editing. But there were some minor sound issues that we still had up to the premiere. In general, yes, it was a big rush to get it all, but for a good reason because Sundance was always the place we, as producers, wanted to have the film.
Did you shoot in all natural light? The movie is so dim.
Franz: Yeah! Well, not all of it. Because you know, if you shoot at night, it's just not possible. The cinematographer was a genius when it came to little things - removing one bulb, or one curtain to get the right shot. But even then, it's not possible to be totally natural at night.
Fiala: Natural light is something we've always been interested in because we feel the whole thing is more real when done right. I mean [the lodge] should be a dark place, and if it's lit in a very Hollywood way and everything is bright and beautiful, it takes away something.
Franz: We always told him we wanted it "dark dark," like pitch black.
Fiala: He was not afraid at all. There's one shot, when the kids enter the living room close to the end of the movie, and it's just the fireplace giving light, that's the only light he used. It was an approach we really loved. It takes a lot of courage from producers to trust that there will be at least something on the film in that kind of light.
Franz: We shot the whole thing on film. 35.
Would you ever shoot on digital?
Franz: We already did one short film digitally.
Fiala: In general, we're not about the dogma. In most films we work on, we feel film is better for the story and will look better. Like Veronika said, we already did a documentary. It really wouldn't have made any sense to shoot it on film because the documentary is like an ongoing fight between the guy we filmed and us. And we didn't push the stop button. It was part of the game and it would go on after the cut and it would've been really weird on film. But we felt that [digital] look really added something to the story. Shooting on film would've just been wrong.
How does co-directing happen on set? Do you have certain aspects of filmmaking that you gravitate toward?
Franz: It depends on what we think works best for whom, but we always make decisions together. As Severin always says, you have that "second chance." If you talk to someone and it doesn't turn out like you thought it would, then there's a second chance when the other one talks to them. They can try to communicate in another way. It sounds very strategic, but actually it's not. It's more intuition. We've known each other for such a long time, so it feels very natural to do what we do.
Fiala: We don't even have to discuss it.
Do you ever have major disagreements on set?
Fiala: Never, never on set.
Franz: It's more in the editing room when it comes to very tiny decisions. Then, sometimes, we can discuss for hours.
Fiala: Or days!
Franz: I ultimately think you have to be able to argue. We take it personally in a way because it's our film, but we never take it personally against each other. When we discuss something, it's like a game, like a very serious game.
Religion and spirituality play a major role in this film. From shrines to character backgrounds to the saint painting on the wall - even the prominence of the organ in the score felt very churchy. What is your approach to religion, theology, and faith as themes?
Fiala: It's less about true faith. It's about trauma more than about faith. The religious community that plays a part in the film is not a normal one. It's dogmatic and traumatizing, and I think the movie is more about that kind of religion. If it's just about people, I think we're happy with people having their faith. We want them to believe in what they want. If it's their personal belief, that's totally fine with us. But if you use your personal belief to traumatize other people, to force them to do something, to hurt them, that’s the thing we want to criticize. And it needs to be criticized because it's still a thing in all the big religions.
Franz: Our background is obviously Catholic, so we used that. If we'd have been Muslims maybe we would've used that. But it's not about a specific religion. It's about dogmatism.
Have y'all seen Hereditary?
Fiala: I have.
Franz: I haven't.
Fiala: When Hereditary came out at Sundance, we were already shooting. We hadn't been aware that this film was coming and hadn't been aware of any similarities. So when everybody later on kept writing, "This element is clearly from Hereditary," we were like—
Franz: We wrote that on our own! And, like I said, I've never seen it, but based on what [Severin] told me, there are parallels, but they're only superficial ones, like the dollhouse. But that is strange - that two people kind of come up with similar ideas around the same time. I mean, sure, Hereditary came out before, but we wrote and started shooting The Lodge before we'd ever heard of it.
Fiala: I don't see any real similarities, but I can still say with [Hereditary] and the other great horror films being released now, I think it's a great time to be a horror fan, and it's a great time to be a horror actor because it seems to be one of the few ringer opportunities to really say something about society, about families, and people will come to watch it. It's easier to make it as a horror film than as an arthouse film or a drama because people are really willing to put up with a lot when watching a horror movie.
Franz: I mean, we experienced that with our festival run for Goodnight Mommy. It played at arthouse cinema festivals and at horror film festivals, and we experienced that the horror film crowd, or fans, are much more open. They like to see new things, and they're less conservative than the arthouse people, at least in our experience. And we really like that. They give you a chance even if you don't fulfill everything they expect. Whereas the arthouse films fans often sit in the cinema like this [pouts]. Skeptical, you know? Like, "Now you have to convince me!"
What are you working on now?
Fiala: A few things. They have various genres, but what unites them is that they’re all pretty dark. Most of them have female leads. One is a German language period drama/horror based on true events. It's called The Devil's Bath, it's set in the 18th century and it's about depression, dogma and religion, about murders and a monster. It's dark.
Another project we have is set up with Michael De Luca, it's called The Fortress and is a thriller that reflects the ongoing refugee crises. Other projects are one true crime horror film and a paranoia thriller, but as we are just developing them right now it's too early to share any details.