The Lodge movie review: Riley Keough turns up the heat in icy psychological horror from makers of Goodnight Mommy
Full marks to The Lodge directors for swimming against the tide of contemporary horror movies stuck on old gimmicks.
castRiley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia Mchugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Danny Keough
directorVeronika Franz, Severin Fiala
There is an inherent dread to winter that makes it the ideal season for horror movie settings. The threat of winter may be outside, taking the form of an unyielding adversary that can endure the harsh weather: take the shape-shifting alien from The Thing or the battalion of zombie Nazis from Dead Snow. Or the threat may breed inside in the isolation of being confined for an extended period of time — and comes knocking on your door with an axe.
With cabin fever currently setting in the world over, you surely understand the sense of desperation, winter or not.
In The Lodge, a snowed-in setting offers a soon-to-be-stepmom an opportunity to get to know her two charges before certain indiscernible forces make her go stir-crazy in the wintry hysteria. Chilling in its constant ambiguity, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala's film thrives in keeping the viewer in a perennial state of suspicion over the characters' motives. Is this an archetypal fable of the wicked stepmother? Or is someone — or something — pushing her to the verge of madness?
The Lodge becomes a narrative parlour game of trying to figure out "the twist", one which you should see coming from the first act. So, what begins as a gripping psychological horror premise, full of ambiguity, soon unravels under the weight of "the twist." Because the film does not end with "the twist" but changes its narrative course to explore the consequences of it.
Franz and Fiala's previous film Goodnight Mommy certainly gave us a far more disturbing matchup between a tormented maternal figure and bitter children. In The Lodge, the children Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (La McHugh) are bitter over their parents' divorce, which ended in a shocking tragedy. To make matters worse, their father Richard (Richard Armitage) compels them to spend the holidays in their usual mountain hideaway with his fiancé, Grace (Riley Keough). Naturally, Aidan and Mia are hostile towards Grace from the outset.
Of course, Grace wants to make the best of this expedited bonding experiment, and hopes to eventually win the trust and love of her stepchildren. She is a woman desperate to leave behind the trauma of her childhood — and getting married, and having a family are just steps to establishing normalcy in her life. We learn she was the sole survivor of her father's Jonestown-like Christian cult that ended in mass suicide. So, the crucifixes hanging on the walls around the lodge do anything but help her cult deprogramming. Also, hanging in the dining room is a painting of the Virgin Mary (a creepier, darker version of Antonello da Messina's Virgin Annunciate), constantly staring at her as if in persecution. As these symbols creep into her dreams, she begins to lose her sense of reality. The walls of the cramped rooms give the inescapable feeling they are closing in on her, the low ceilings pressing her down. Keough steers us through the horror of PTSD relapse, grounding the madness beset upon her in an ever-shifting emotional reality.
The children of course have trauma of their own after their parents' divorce. On learning Grace's past, they grow even more fearful of her. By delaying Grace's arrival as much as they can, Franz and Fiala build a sense of paranoia and foreboding in not just the children, but the viewers too. Grace turns from an invisible force at the centre of their family's destruction into one that slowly gains opacity, from an abstract idea into a fuzzy silhouette outside a frosted window. Like the kids, we see her in the flesh for the first time as she gets into the car on the way to the lodge. With her back to the camera, we still cannot put a face to the name. Then, she finally turns back, and the kids struggle to hide their unease without appearing stand-offish.
Once they all reach the lodge, they make their aversion known quite defiantly of course. Still, Richard feels the need to head back into town for work. It is hard to imagine any father would leave his children and fiancé by themselves in the middle of nowhere, especially in the harsh Massachusetts winter. Not after the tragedy his children have been through. Certainly not knowing his fiancé’s troubled past. Moreover, it is baffling why he would entrust her with a loaded gun — self-defence and Second Amendment be damned. So the pretext is as contrived as it can get.
Reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, The Lodge captures the inescapable isolation of a hostile environment. Thimios Bakatakis (the cinematographer behind Yorgos Lanthimos films like Kinetta, Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer) builds an atmosphere of mutual distrust and fear of being trapped together amidst the snowy expanse. The tracking shots through Mia's dollhouse, which resemble the lodge, act as an augury of things to come. The macabre staging will inevitably bring to mind a similar diorama in Hereditary.
However, unlike Ari Aster's horror film, The Lodge leaves us stranded in the cold after a promising set-up.
But full marks to Franz and Fiala for swimming against the tide of contemporary horror movies stuck on old gimmicks. It eschews all the crap that has plagued them (from jump scares to needless sequels) for an exercise in atmosphere and ambiguity.
The Lodge is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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