Revisiting similar themes of the potential horror of motherhood seen in their critically acclaimed 2014 debut Goodnight Mommy, Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have teamed up with Hammer Films for their first English language film. Taking inspiration from classic films ranging from Rebecca to The Shining, The Lodge tells the chilling tale of a woman (Riley Keough) and her two new stepchildren as they are trapped in the family’s remote winter cabin during a devastating storm. The Lodge, for the most part, is an unsettling film about the constricting nature of familial bonds and religious faith, but unfortunately, things fall apart in the third act when it relies on a plot twist that seems underdeveloped, asinine, and simply hard to swallow.
From the opening scenes, Franz and Fiala drench the film in thick, atmospheric dread, beginning with a series of images that follow the concept of Chekhov’s gun, including a literal gun and shots of a large dollhouse that quickly calls to mind Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Only unlike Hereditary, the dollhouse is employed here with little purpose, making it seem like a gimmick rather than a clever motif. This is a minor nitpick, since the dollhouse appears only at the beginning and end of The Lodge, but it’s the start of what feels like a screenwriter trying too hard to trick the audience.
After a horrific opening The Lodge picks up with brother and sister Aidan (Jaeden Lieberher) and Mia (Lia McHugh) grieving the death of their mother, Laura (Alicia Silverstone), who suddenly kills herself in a moment of jealous despair when learning that her soon-to-be-divorced husband, Richard (Richard Armitage), has plans to marry Grace (Riley Keough). We learn that Grace is the only surviving member of a doomsday cult that was brainwashed to commit suicide by their charismatic leader, and while writing about the cult, Richard met Grace, fell in love, and decided to leave his wife for her. Naturally, Richard’s kids don’t like Grace, and have an extra reason to be worried about her since a quick internet search brings up her troubled past. In a desperate effort to bring the family together, Richard suggests that Aidan and Mia get to know Grace better by spending Christmas with her in the family’s remote Northwest cabin. Not too long after, Richard is called away on business, and while he’s gone, a blizzard descends; soon inexplicable, terrifying things begin to unravel.
For roughly the first fifteen minutes, Grace is introduced as an enigmatic figure, mostly kept off-screen and framed in ways which hide her face. She’s the film’s biggest mystery, presented as some sort of threatening entity who may or may not be a danger to Richard and his family. When at last she is introduced, Grace is shown as a sincerely warm and a kindhearted soul who loves her dog and seems genuinely interested in forming a bond with the kids. Riley Keough is the focus of the film, and her subtle performance gives the viewer plenty of ways to interpret her and her relationship with Richard’s kids. Keough’s performance is arguably a career-best, as her aptly named Grace wrestles with her inner demons and religiously-abusive past. Throughout the entire running time, we see her struggling with the voices in her head, desperately trying to stay sane.
The Lodge is a horror film that delivers exactly what you’d hope until it doesn’t.
Shot in the wintry outskirts of Quebec (and on film), cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis (a regular Yorgos Lanthimos collaborator) takes advantage of the snowy landscape to shoot one of the most gorgeous horror films of 2019. The Lodge is stunning, featuring some great tracking shots highlighting the bleak isolation of the snowy outpost. The original score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans further heightens the claustrophobic feeling and ominous dread that pervades the lodge. It is expected that many will draw similarities between The Lodge and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and like Kubrick’s classic, The Lodge will leave viewers wondering what is real and what is not. Is Grace hallucinating? Is there something supernatural at play? Is she a threat, or is she the victim of a cruel joke? It’s all open to interpretation, as the power goes out, and everything in the house goes missing, including Grace’s beloved dog.
The Lodge gets by on aesthetics and mood for the first hour, but by the time we get the BIG reveal, you may (like me) find yourself incredibly frustrated with the results. Co-written by Sergio Casci (and the directors), the script keeps us guessing as to whether the children, Grace, or some unseen force is responsible for the inexplicable events. As The Lodge makes its way into the third act, Grace begins to quickly lose control as painful memories of her past begin to manifest. Unfortunately, despite Keough’s stellar performance, the many plot inconsistencies and the strange decisions made by all three leads only distract from what is otherwise an incredibly well-made movie. The Lodge comes across as a film made with a heavy focus on providing a twist, and seems more concerned with outsmarting the audience than telling a compelling story. In the end, a poorly handled plot development is the movie’s ultimate downfall. It doesn’t work thematically, and worse yet, it makes little sense.
The Lodge is not designed to make you jump from your seat. Instead, it is a patient, atmospheric mood piece that relies heavily on its visual language and sound design to crawl under your skin. The restraint of the filmmakers in refusing to rely on cheap scares and other horror movie tropes is certainly admirable, but by the time Grace and the kids sit down to watch John Carpenter’s masterpiece The Thing, I just couldn’t help but wish I was watching that movie instead.
- Ricky D