Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Poke a Hole Through Common Sense
In the cerebral and atmospheric horror The Lodge, Richard (Richard Armitage) and Laura (Alicia Silverstone) Hall are in the middle of a separation as their 17-year-old son Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and 12-year-old daughter Mia (Lia McHugh) want nothing more than for their parents to rekindle what they once had. But Richard announces that he has plans to marry his new, young girlfriend Grace (Riley Keough) and the Hall family is forever affected because of it.
Six months later, Richard wants Aiden and Mia to get to know Grace better and intends to have the three of them spend Christmas alone in the mountains five to six hours away from the city since he’ll be working. The tension between Grace and Richard’s children is still high as the blizzard outside only makes matters worse. As Grace’s troubled past begins to eat at her, their icy seclusion makes it seem as if their grisly fates are already sealed.
Austrian filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz delivered a divisive horror debut in 2014’s Goodnight Mommy, but have returned five years later with their English language/American debut in The Lodge. The film is this methodical head game; a slow psychological burn towards driving one specific person to the brink of insanity. Unfortunately, The Lodge trades logic and sound reasoning for atmospheric horror meaning that its creepy sequences don’t really make a ton of sense in the long run.
Before Grace is officially introduced, the film spends a lot of time obscuring her from the audience. We see her through frosted apartment windows, foggy car windows, and blurry shower curtains before we finally see her face. What’s interesting is that by the second half of the film, Grace is doing the opposite. She’s staring out of those windows into the snow, into the wilderness, and into nothingness. The more she stares, the more the character has plunged further into darkness and given into madness.
Grace’s ties to the cult she was a part of until its mass suicide when she was 12-years-old is key to what the character had to overcome. Her dog, Grady, is a symbol of a fresh start for Grace and is the essence of her moving past the cult she was so devoted to. Grace is on heavy medication throughout the film; something she hides from Richard. The religious imagery in the lodge, like the painting at the dinner table and the black crucifixions throughout, are at first just a brief reminder of what Grace went through but eventually become tools into driving her back into that ritualistic mindset. Grace’s method of repenting and cleansing her sins is essentially removing herself and everyone around her from existence.
Mia has a dollhouse setup at her mom’s house with dolls mimicking the events of what’s happening in the film. The way the dolls mirror the events of reality is reminiscent of the miniatures in Hereditary. The difference is Mia has a doll that she treats as her birth mother. It goes with her everywhere and she even has the doll sit at the dinner table as Mia gives the doll portions of the meal being served. This seems to be leading to something, but is more of a stagnant aspect that isn't fully explored.
The Lodge aims to unsettle and little else. It’s a frustrating experience regarding far too much work for so little amount of people to accomplish in such a brief amount of time. The film toys with being stuck in purgatory, but succumbs to stupidity at every turn. "Let’s take our chances in below freezing weather without a jacket as we walk several miles to the nearest town to get help." Aiden and Mia mostly just come off like obnoxious brats who aren’t getting what they want; nothing a nice hard slap wouldn’t fix. By the time everything is revealed to you, it feels like those pulling the strings get exactly what they deserve, one person is left beyond the point of no return, and you’re left wondering why and how all these factors went into where all these characters end up.
Imagine jotting down a bunch of peculiar things someone could do that would make you feel tense, uncomfortable, or might possibly question your existence. Now throw all of those together with the only real back story being a woman attempting to make something work while everyone else not so secretly hates her for taking the original mother’s place. The Lodge tries to be this revenge tale for unwarranted revenge. It is the perfect example of biting off more than you can chew and teasing someone until they snap. It’s not enjoyable since it simply just makes your brain hurt from its lack of proper story progression and suspension of normal human thinking.
The Lodge is a mess of a horror film as even the performances grate on your last nerve. Lia McHugh has the most annoying fake on-screen cry in existence and Jaeden Martell oozes the typical know-it-all overbearing smugness most 17-year-olds are expected to have. The method in which the film devotes itself to slowly unraveling the psyche of the Grace character is its biggest asset, but the path it takes to get there feels absolutely asinine. This is psychological horror at its sloppiest.
© 2020 Chris Sawin