I’ve never been too keen on having children, quite frankly, and thanks to Veronika Franz’s and Severin Fiala’s 2014 feature Goodnight Mommy and now their much-anticipated English-language follow up, THE LODGE, not only do I not want to have children of my own, but I sure as hell do not want to be a stepmom anytime soon either…
THE LODGE follows Grace, (a perfectly casted Riley Keough) a traumatized, former extreme Evangelist cult victim who is engaged to Richard, (Richard Armitage) the researcher of a book about said cult. Richard’s children Aiden (It’s Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) blame Grace for ending the marriage between Richard and their heartbroken mother Laura, (Alicia Silverstone) and when it’s time for a blizzard-y Christmas vacation in the family’s deserted log cabin, Grace is forced to face the traumas of her past in an “Are we already dead and in purgatory?” type of hellish nightmare. (Yes, that question is actually asked.)
THE LODGE starts out promising. Within the first 15 minutes, the film jolts your attention with a loud bang and a whole lot of blood splattered on the walls. I’ll leave it at that (because I’m frankly disappointed in the amount of other reviews I read from its Sundance premiere that spoiled what exactly happens in this shocking moment.) The Overlook audience at my screening made all kinds of audible reactions. In addition to the well-crafted sound design throughout, Franz, Fiala, and cinematographer Thimios Bakatas waste no time establishing the film’s bleak tone through somber gray lighting, restraining shots of quiet, empty hallways and mysteriously closing doors, and even a macabre dollhouse that mirrors the characters’ “real” lives…which would have been wholly more effective if Hereditary and HBO thriller-drama Sharp Objects hadn’t already done it so well just one year ago. Whereas the dollhouses in those other two served as a thematic purpose to their respective narratives, the dolls and dollhouse in THE LODGE only exist to drum up the atmosphere and for little Mia to drag around when she’s missing certain family members.
The film feels as cold as its backdrop’s below-freezing temperatures, which I mean as a compliment in some ways, but in other ways— not as much. My biggest praise lies in its effectiveness: the filmmakers choose chilling subtlety over cheap jump scares. Several moments had me questioning whether or not I actually witnessed what I thought I witnessed in the dark corner. The visuals are often nightmare fuel, especially in what they choose not to show to you, because they understand that what you will envision in your head is much scarier than what they could create. They know how to craft horror that sinks under your skin and lingers long after viewing, which we already knew. I mean, who could forget that final shot of Goodnight Mommy? And the final moments of THE LODGE are just as unsettling, even if you see it coming from a mile away. However, the issues that are caused by the film’s coldness come from its script. Primarily empty dialogue, shallow characters (except for Keough’s Grace) and even stranger character decisions left me craving more. With the exception of Grace, detached, unlikeable characters make it difficult to get behind anyone except for her and the madness of what she is going through. Her fiancé Richard is thinly written, and the children garnered zero sympathy from me, even though they are kids— and maybe I should have felt something for them other than pure disdain? (Seriously, they were insufferable little jerks, in my opinion.)
Unfortunately, THE LODGE is often too logically inconsistent to be placed on the same tier as other slow-burn, contemporary favorites like Hereditary and The Witch. It seems to be suffering from an identity crisis: it wants to be Catholic guilt/religious horror, cult horror, supernatural horror, and haunted house horror, with knowing nods to The Shining, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with mixing different subgenres and tropes into one film (hell, look how well it worked for Hereditary) the film sometimes feels too repetitive and unfocused, especially within the occurrences it expects you to buy into. A few moments during my screening I cringed in disbelief because I just wasn’t buying a few of the absurd logical issues that the film was trying to sell to me.
Even though I felt that this sophomore effort was not as strong and cohesive as the filmmakers’ debut, is THE LODGE still worth your time? Most definitely. It has its issues, but I guarantee it’ll make you feel icky afterwards with what it implies, and as horror fans, that’s all we need to get our butts in the seats.
THE LODGE will be distributed by NEON and is slated for a Fall 2019 release.