Austrian directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz have crafted a frosty and compelling suspense with horror overtones. It surpasses Hereditary (2018) with its eery themes of rural isolation and family dysfunction.
Siblings Mia (Lia McHugh) and Aidan (Jaeden Martell) can’t stand their soon-to-be stepmother Grace (Riley Keough). Their mum Laura (Alicia Silverstone) hates her but dad Richard (Richard ‘Thorin Oakenshield’ Armitage) can’t see what the problem is. Richard, Grace and the kids go to a snow-bound lodge for Christmas and work pressures cause Richard to leave the three alone for three days. Things do not go well.
Mood and location are key players and, reminiscent of Hereditary, close up shots of Mia’s life-like doll house are intercut with the reality unfolding. The isolation of the lodge, the iced-over lake it sits beside and constant snowfall build a chilly and desolate sense of danger. The tension is built slowly and it’s not immediately apparent where the story is going or what the locus of the menace is. There are points where we think we know what the truth is but there are no cute plot twists or sudden reveals. It feels very real and, unlike Hereditary, doesn’t rely on the supernatural for an explanation or have a cheesy, let down ending.
All the leads are good though Silverstone and Armitage don’t get much to work with. It’s Keough’s film and she is thoroughly convincing as someone who may or may not be the psychopath that Aidan believes her to be.
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