Little Bone Lodge had its world première at the Glasgow FrightFest 2023
“It’s said that mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children. She can be glorious, or terrible, benevolent, or filled with wrath. She’ll fight away the monsters with the fangs of a wolf and the teeth of a dragon – and love with a ferocity that can never be matched. Her job is to protect – no matter the cost – and if anyone would ever harm her family, there’s no telling what she’d be capable of.”
So says young Maisy (Sadie Soverall) in voiceover at the beginning of Matthias Hoene’s Little Bone Lodge, as Rose (Joely Richardson) comes into their farmhouse from the rain. Rose – called ‘Mama’ both by Maisy and in the closing credits – is precisely the model of fierce, protective matriarch which the teenager’s opening words outlined. In a remote home without phone or internet – the lodge of the title – Mama keeps a tight ship: she runs the large farming operation single-handed and lovingly looks after Maisie; and she also attends to the constant medical needs of wheelchair-bound, severely invalid Pa (Roger Ajogbe), left that way since a car accident many years earlier that also killed Mama’s younger son Ollie, whom Maisy has now forgotten (but Mama never will).
As Mama battens down the hatches for the sort of dark and stormy night that might introduce the latest pulp novel by Snoopy, there is an ominous knock at the door, and the distraught young Matty (Harry Cadby) begs to be let in with his older brother Jack (the film’s writer Neil Linpow), who is unconscious and gravely injured from a car accident. Savvy viewers will have an inkling that even as Mama is opening her doors to trouble, that trouble does not quite know what it is letting itself in for. After all, films like Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Til Dawn (1996), Alex Turner’s Dead Birds (2004), Steven Mena’s Malevolence(2004), Paul Andrew Williams’ The Cottage (2008), WW Jones and Luke Skinner’s The World We Knew (2020) and Ryuhei Kitamura’s The Price We Pay (2022) have long since taught us to expect that criminals who go on the run to the country tend to meet a sticky comeuppance as their own genre collides chaotically with another – and the mother of all these films, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), also featured a fugitive of the law falling into the clutches of (someone pretending to be) an overbearing, aggressive Mama.
So the audience will wonder, along with Matty and Jack, just what Mama has hidden behind all the large lodge’s locked doors, even as the brothers come with considerable mummy issues of their own. For both were abandoned as children by their mother, leaving Jack to play reluctant parent to his autistic young brother who needs more stability and love than Jack is capable of giving. Meanwhile, a third mother (Sharon Young), herself unseen, watches all from the wings, while criminal godfather McCalister (Cameron Jack) and his muscle Duncan (Euan Bennet) are coming for a bag of stolen cash and McCalister’s own missing son Michael. A violent clusterfuck of clashing aims and conflicting ends will ensue, as loyalty is tested, family secrets out, dysfunction is passed down the generational line, and a particularly cold, cruel revenge is gradually revealed.
Unlike Hoene’s earlier, openly comic Cockneys vs Zombies (2012), Little Bone Lodge is a psychodrama played intensely straight, exploring the outer limits of maternity. It makes its old dark house setting an ongoing crime scene, littered with bony clues and photographic evidence, and filled with unnerving lived-in atmosphere. For in this ‘safe’ space, a refuge from outside elements, family ties are teased apart only to be bound back together in newer, tighter knots, and we see another Psycho in the making, as a mother’s monstrous nurturing and vindictive malice know no end.
strap: Matthias Hoene’s Psycho-thriller pits fugitive criminal brothers against one very determined mother, equally protective and vindictive
© Anton Bitel