'The Lodge' Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala on Building Atmosphere and Referencing 'Jack Frost' [Interview]
Filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala know how to let a movie get under an audience’s skin. Even the simplest of their shots, such as Riley Keough scratching her knees, elicit discomfort. They maintain that mood of dread throughout the their newest film, The Lodge, their followup to Goodnight Mommy.
Their latest is a chilly head trip of a horror movie about bottled-up emotions exploding into fear, terror, and mystery. It’s an unsettling experience best seen blind. “This movie lingers long after the credits roll,” Chris Evangelista wrote in his review. “After the conclusion, I stumbled out of the dark theater into the sunlight, disoriented, excited, and, yes, a little scared. As long as more movies are like The Lodge, the horror genre will be in great shape.”
Franz and Fiala met when Fiala was babysitting Franz’s children. The two bonded over horror movies. Years later, that chance encounter has given the world The Lodge. Recently, we spoke to the duo about the horror movie in a mostly spoiler-free conversation about messages, telling a story without heroes and villains, and the Michael Keaton holiday “classic,” Jack Frost.
What’s it like promoting a movie like The Lodge? What have been some telling reactions or questions?
Severin: For us, it’s hard to talk about it because we don’t want to spoil anything or talk too much about it.
Veronika: That’s the hard part.
Severin: It’s really hard to what to say about it because we don’t want to, it’s a movie best watched blind. Now, it’s great if you don’t know anything, I think you have the best possible experience. And of course, we love to talk about our work but sometimes we don’t because we don’t want to ruin the experience for people.
Veronika: Sometimes it’s interesting when people talk about the father character because they blame him or they say, “Oh, how can he leave them at the lodge?” Which is strange for us Europeans because, actually, I know a lot of men who kind of would give the new girlfriend and the kids an opportunity to get to know each other and also would leave them in a house, which looks totally safe. So why not? But as an American, I think it’s kind of an American thing. This father, this protective father thing, and he has to protect the family.
Severin: Father needs to be a hero in a way.
Veronika: Yeah. Father needs almost to be a hero. Actually, for us, no one has to be a hero.
Severin: I mean ideally in our movie, there are no heroes and no bad guys in that sense. We’re all humans and we all make mistakes and if you’re not able to properly talk about those mistakes you made, then it can create something terrible. But I think the message, if there is one, is talk and be open about your scars.
Veronika: There’s no message. What are you talking about? We don’t do messages.
Severin: I think there is.
Veronika: I don’t think so.
Severin: Yeah, I think so. Because we did the scene, there is. It’s something that we, that keeps coming back to us. I think there is something.
Veronika: No, I don’t, obviously, I don’t like the expression ‘message.’ I think you should get people to think. That’s the message.
But there is something you wanted to say, right?
Severin: As said before, hopefully, it’s a horror film without any monster in it. So it’s about human beings and I think that’s something we want to say about society and about human beings. It’s not black and white. Every one of us is capable to be a lover, or a murderer or, everyone has everything inside of himself and it’s all depending on the situation you are in, in a way. I think this is very fascinating to us and we feel like saying, okay, this is an evil person, makes life and films and everything lot easier. But we’re not for easy. We like complicated stuff. We like the difficult stuff.
Children are not always innocent like more conventional horror movies.
Severin: I think we’re never interested in conventional pathways or formulas. We ask ourselves, “If those characters were real people, where could they possibly go?” Even if they go down the road, which is maybe not a good for a movie plot, they’d take a turn that the movie plot usually wouldn’t do. We’re interested in that turn. I think the original script ended much sooner. And we were interested in, what would happen after the ending? What would happen after, if it was a conventional film and it ended there, what’s after the ending? And that’s what kept us going and writing and we felt we need to discover what’s happening with those people after it all ends.”
What was the original ending? You two sort of started from scratch with the story, right?
Veronika: We kind of liked the idea that they wanted to create purgatory in a way and then, in the end, they’re stuck and then accept that purgatory.
Severin: Actually, they don’t want to create purgatory.
Veronika: No, they want her to believe being in purgatory…
Severin: Believe, and then they create it in a way and then they’re stuck. And the question is, what happens if you’re stuck in purgatory? That’s what interested us most, actually. But that’s the thing because you made it sound like we had to start from scratch with this script, that’s not true. I think it’s just, we have a very specific way of telling our stories and of how we want to tell films in a visual way and without much dialogue and very atmospheric. And Sergio to be fair, he wrote it, not for us, he wrote it just for himself. And it was a great, playful, very entertaining, thrilling script with such, it was so funny. It had so much funny dialogue and we feel so sad for Sergio because he’s a master of writing all those amazing dialogues.
Veronika: We took all of the fun out of it [Laughs].
Severin: Yeah, we took the fun out and we’re sorry for, Sergio, we are sorry. That’s not what we are good at and what we’re interested in. So we had to change it in a way. Not because it was not good, but because it was not ours.
Veronika: Because we like to create a certain atmosphere and to be able to do that, we need as few dialogues as possible.
Severin: It’s about silence.
Veronika: Yeah, it’s about silence. And it’s about just watching people maybe or listening to something. Usually, screenwriters don’t write this down in the script.
Severin: They’re afraid it might be boring.
Veronika: So we always, when we write like a script ourselves, we always kind of ask ourselves, “Oh there’s a dialogue that could be a shortcut and it tells everything, but tell it in a scene or tell it with images instead of just talking?” This is a very specific way of wanting to create a movie.
Severin: It’s why our scripts are usually they’re like maybe 60 pages long.
Veronika: Goodnight Mommy was something like 62 pages.
Severin: And because there is so little dialogue and the problem is… That’s okay. In Austria, all films that are government, state-funded in a way. In America, where bond companies and production companies and banks. That’s hard to argue to sell, this is only 60 pages and then you work on an eighth of the page and you work your whole day and then they are freaking out and saying okay going to need 80 shooting days for the whole thing. How is it going to work out? We know our way of making films and something’s, atmosphere, ambiance, this takes a lot of time for us and we know it’s important and it’s going to pay off. Another thing we are much quicker with dialogue scenes because we love improvisation and I think we can do maybe seven or eight pages if it contains a lot of dialogue. But if it’s the visual and atmospheric stuff, it just takes longer. And I think we know that about us, but it’s hard if you do films in a different system and people don’t know you and don’t know the way you make films. So we had a hard time like explaining it to companies all the time, how we believe it’s right for the movie.
Where does imagining the atmosphere start for you both? Like you said, it’s a long process, but what were your initial ideas about how you wanted the sound and images to unnerve people?
Severin: Actually, one of the very first ideas was to start, because the movie starts in the summertime, to start in the like more colorful way and kept moving camera and stuff and then to go nearly to a black and white feeling just like white snow and darkness. That was one of the earliest ideas I think.
Veronika: Originally we even wanted to start with idyllic garden actually and flowers and like an artificial garden in front of the dollhouse.
Severin: It should have a David Lynch feeling to it.
Veronika: Should have a David Lynch feeling in the beginning that is like an artificial garden. And you never know. I mean, we really throughout, as Severin always say, we like this feeling that you don’t know where to go. And you don’t know if you will be on the ice, on the ice surface, and you go on and you don’t know, you hear it cracking and you never know, is this going to break? Or is it safe? And so we liked this idea that you, kind of, go through the whole movie and you never know, is this now true? Is this real? Is this one of the layers or one of the tricks.
Severin: Yeah, we tried to film like it was an idea of a Thimios, our cinematographer, very early on to film the actual lodge as if a dollhouse, and then we had his dollhouse created, which looks like the lodge and we wanted the audience never to be too sure where they are right now. And maybe larger question is who is playing with the puppets in the dollhouse, but also in the real lodge, who’s playing with those people?
Veronika: Then we’re kind of actually shellshocked when we find out, we’re starting to shoot at the same time Hereditary premiered at Sundance and we only heard, “Oh, it’s about the dollhouse, it’s about the family in a house.” It’s about a trauma in the beginning. And we were like, “Oh my God, what’s going on?” Actually, it was only a week ago that I saw Hereditary because I always said, “I want to see that. I want to see it.” Because it’s strange. They’re like certain similar ideas we had basically at the same time. I mean I asked, he was first, but we didn’t know.
Severin: The funny thing is we got to know him. We’ve got to know Ari Aster at one point.
Veronika: I told him.
Severin: Yeah. I think what might inspire like similar visuals and similar sense for storytelling is that we realized we share our love for film history and for similar films. So I think we both admire the same filmmakers and love the same filmmakers. I think this leads to something that might be connected in a way.
Veronika: But I was very glad that I’ve seen it because, yeah, it has some similarities, but people ask us. So for me, it was time to confront myself. And actually, I think the dollhouse, with Ari Aster, it’s a very kind of, she’s just building dollhouses. It’s not, it’s not more or less than that. But in our case, I think it’s used differently.
Very different. I have to ask about one of the biggest scares in this movie, which is the clip from Jack Frost.
Veronika: [Laughs] Yes! You are the first person asking us about Jack Frost.
[Laughs] Another movie about loss.
Veronika: It was very difficult, actually.
Severin: It’s a very long, very sad story for us. Because it was always in the script and then there were different movies, some cheesy Christmas flick, whatever. Then we started to look for movies we could potentially use and came across this clip of Jack Frost with our editor and we fell so in love with it and it was way longer. It’s not like it is in the movie. We had this huge Jack Frost sequence in the film.
Veronika: And the thing was similar.
Severin: We watched it [for a] very long time and every time we watched our movie in the editing room, we watched it a hundred times. We’re only looking forward to the moment when they watch Jack Frost because then we could see Jack Frost and we loved it so badly. But unfortunately, it turned out that Michael Keaton seems not to be a great fan of that movie. That’s why we had to use a very short excerpt and without Michael Keaton’s voice. And so that was the only clip we could use and we still love it, but we would have felt much more of Jack Frost in the movie.
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