M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! Every day in this glorious month of October I’ll be counting down the best in horror, culminating with the best horror film since last Halloween! With theaters closed for the bulk of this shitty, shitty year, much of the countdown comes from alternative sources like streaming services, digital download, and On Demand. Plus, we saw the return of the drive-in theater, which is awesome! This list compiles the best horror films released beginning on October 1, 2019 and ending on September 30, 2020. No elitism here—only films released to the public on this list which rules out haughty festival flicks that only esteemed reviewers get to see. If it played on a public screen this year, it’s fair game to be on the list. Here we go!

Released on February 7, 2020. Available on digital download and On Demand from NEON!!

THE LODGE (2019)

Directed by Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz
Written by Sergio Casci, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz
Starring Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Rebecca Faulkenberry, Katelyn Wells, Danny Keough, Lola Reid
Find out more about this film here!

It’s always great to see an original horror film in theaters, but it’s also always a risk as horror that lays outside of the realm of sequel, remake, or spinoff is a hard sell to mainstream moviegoers. I say this because THE LODGE is far from a mainstream horror film. There are very few scares and when the horror happens, its more of a creeping dread feeling rather than a surefire jolt. This isn’t a film that is going to please many who are used to the rapid-fire rollercoaster shockeroos from BlumHouse and their ilk. THE LODGE is more about the feeling it overwhelms your senses with. It’s a film that wafts over you and makes you squirm, never giving you a chance to release any of the tension built up with jump scares or jokes. This is a pitch black and dire film that will definitely leave a mark on your soul after viewing. But it ain’t mainstream, so it’s doubtful it’ll be a barnburner at the box office.

Still, if you come to horror films in order to feel horror, terror, and dread and maybe thank your lucky stars that your life isn’t as tragic as the characters on the screen in front of you, this is the movie for you. It’s a story that isn’t necessarily fun. It is a story that takes you to an uncomfortable place and forces you to live there for an extended period of time. It’s less of a thrill-ride as much as it is a sheer emotional ordeal. If that sounds interesting to you, then you’re just the kind of fucked up person that should see THE LODGE.

The creative force behind GOODNIGHT MOMMY, filmmakers Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz deliver another harrowing descent into the abyss centering around the role of motherhood. While GOODNIGHT MOMMY is a completely different movie with a completely different aesthetic and storyline, there are quite a few similarities that I found to be just as fascinating as the films themselves. Both films are about children mistrusting the female maternal figure who herself is quite mysterious. Both provide a window into the world of play children can become enveloped in and how that sometimes can be a dangerous place to be in with real world ramifications. Both films go to dire and dark lengths to illustrate this mistrust between child and mother and both pull no punches in the horrifying things that occur as a result of this mistrust. Both have major twists throughout and end in a bleak, bleak way. While I don’t mind filmmakers using their medium to delve into specific issues and filmmakers making multiple films with similar themes, it is interesting to me that GOODNIGHT MOMMY and THE LODGE are so similar. In many ways, THE LODGE is a Hollywood remake of GOODNIGHT MOMMY with different characters, locale, and situations. It’s just something I noticed. If, however, the third film from this filmmaking team is as similar, I might have an issue. But as is, I was thoroughly entertained by THE LODGE despite its similarity to GOODNIGHT MOMMY.

After a family tragedy, a pair of kids Aiden and Mia (IT’s Jaeden Martell and newcomer Lia McHugh) are forced by their father to spend a week with their father’s new girlfriend Grace (Riley Keough) in their winter home in the middle of nowhere a week before Christmas. With the weather outside becoming downright frightful and communication with the real world cut off due to the elements, cabin fever sets in and Grace, Aiden, and Mia begin fearing strange forces are making their already dire situation more dire. Making matters worse, Grace is a sole survivor of a cult that killed themselves Heaven’s Gate style when she was very young. When her medication goes missing and she begins having pervasive nightmares filled with religious symbolism, Grace begins to doubt what is real and what isn’t.

The biggest difference between GOODNIGHT MOMMY and THE LODGE is a matter of perspective. While both tell similar stories with similar themes, instead of showing the story from the children’s perspective, we are riding this one out on the slender shoulders of Riley Keough’s Grace. This fact is a deceiving one as the story is told from the kids’ perspective in the film’s intro then shifts to Grace’s as soon as everyone gathers at the titular lodge. Keough is amazing in this lead role and proves to be a hell of an actress able to convey a vulnerability here as Grace who has the best of intentions but is put into a no-win situation that only seems to get worse as the days pass. Seeing her mental state crumble is a harrowing experience because Keough has done the work to let us get to know and like her in the first half. This is a stellar performance that proves that Keough, a former model and granddaughter to Elvis Presley, has the stuff that makes for super stardom.

The kids are great too. Usually, the presence of kids in a horror film makes me groan. If you don’t find the right kids, you’ve got an arduous film to slog through. Fortunately, Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh are two fine actors. Martell might still have that IT feel to him—he’s got the same haircut and basically looks like he immediately walked onto set after wrapping the Stephen King shocker. It would behoove Martell to do something other than horror next as his face is just too familiar after the exposure he got from IT (advice Finn Wolfhard should take as well). Still, he does a fine job as the protective older brother of Mia, the younger as he silently holds her hand while she cries herself to sleep at night. McHugh is a real surprise here as Mia, who is required some pretty rough acting work and is given the job to provide most of the emotional cues as to what these kids are feeling throughout the film. There are scenes of her crying that hit hard.

One of the things I must commend THE LODGE for is the fact that despite some very rudimentary frostbite effects and a pair of shocking gunshots, there is very little in terms of gore here. This is all about mood and the suggestion of something horrifying in the dark corners of the lodge. While I’m a fan of the messy gory stuff, I also will admit an effective horror film without it is a fine achievement in the mastery of all things that go bump in the night. Filmmakers Fiala and Franz are able to scare and creep in unconventional and highly effective ways here.

The thing that is not going to sit well with viewers, I assume, is the absolute, palpable dread that is pervasive in the second half of THE LODGE. Without a release, the intensity of Grace, Aiden, and Mia’s plight grows and never stops growing until the very end. Fiala & Franz do a fantastic job of highlighting the nightmarish aspects of the snowy landscape (much as they did with the alien-like landscapes in GOODNIGHT MOMMY). This is a bleak and dismal film that will bring you right into the middle of the snowstorm. That’s a rough feeling to be in and I myself felt as if I needed an extra layer of clothes to bury myself into as the film coldly pressed on. THE LODGE is a film that envelops you. It is unrelenting in the story it tells and isn’t afraid to go to the dark places you don’t want to think of. THE LODGE tosses out the mainstream horror menu and instead offers up a buffet of sorrow, madness, and despair. As I’ve said above, this isn’t a fun film, but THE LODGE is one you won’t be able to shake off. Its darkness is something that doesn’t let up and it meticulously left my soul shocked and mind heavy by the time the credits rolled.

Recommended to those who didn’t get enough sorrow porn from HEREDITARY and MIDSOMMAR.

Click here for the trailer!!

THE 2019-2020 COUNTDOWN!

#10 – HOST
#19 – BUTT BOY
#20 – BECKY
#24 – ALONE
#26 – AMULET

M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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