Director: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Writer: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Producer: Simon Oakes, Aliza James, Aaron Ryder
Stars: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage
Unnerving events cause a troubled woman to confront traumatic memories when she becomes caught inside a winter cabin with her fianc¨¦¡¯s children.
Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala¡¯s ¡°The Lodge¡± bears several similarities, structurally and cinematically, to Ari Aster¡¯s ¡°Hereditary¡± (review here). Both films prominently feature dollhouse dioramas whose macabre miniatures eerily echo certain settings. Dark clouds of family tragedy, trauma, and bizarre bereavement threaten thematic thunderstorms throughout each scene. And both movies slowly stir atmospheric anxiety until a cult-centric climax crescendos in sinister sights that practically pin back your eyelids with torturous toothpicks.
Also akin to ¡°Hereditary,¡± ¡°The Lodge¡¯s¡± devils lurk within every detail. Sometimes they sit in the open, such as whenever dollhouse milieus nakedly foreshadow terrors yet to come. Other times, little details try hiding in clever corners.
Take Laura Hall (Alicia Silverstone). We meet Laura in front of a mirror where she crimps her eyelashes before a brief emotional breakdown. Her grooming doesn¡¯t try harder than it has to, though putting this small pinch of effort into her appearance says something important about the struggling woman. She¡¯s only dropping off her children Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) with their father Richard (Richard Armitage). Yet Laura clearly hopes her estranged husband will notice her, maybe be reminded of their faded romance¡¯s passionate past.
That doesn¡¯t happen. Richard has already moved on with new girlfriend Grace (Riley Keough). Grace isn¡¯t even an actual entity to Laura, the children, or the audience yet. She¡¯s symbolically an opaque obstacle further fracturing this family through no willfully ill intent. Accordingly, ¡°The Lodge¡± initially depicts Grace only in silhouette, through frosted glass, or from behind. When Aiden and Mia are finally forced to meet her for the first time, the movie chooses to make Grace a real person by revealing her face to us at the same moment.
It¡¯s a bit of a wonder why everyone, Aiden and Mia included, is so hung up on Richard. His motivations always placate his own interests first, making him an obliviously insensitive ex-husband, boyfriend, and father too. If not for the way ¡°The Lodge¡± unusually unfolds by presenting everyone as equally able to inflict pain on loved ones, I¡¯d think the movie made a mistake in portraying Richard so brusquely. No, ¡°The Lodge¡± merely means to be as coldly callous in texture as its characters behave toward each other.
With the children still reeling from an emotionally shattering shock, Richard pretends to not know what their problems are. He proposes a family trip to their winter cabin where Aiden and Mia can get to know Grace. Aiden understandably responds negatively, challenging his father¡¯s peculiar request to play House with their future stepmother on Christmas of all days. What kid wouldn¡¯t say ¡°f*ck you¡± in this instance?
The holiday getaway happens anyway. Richard doesn¡¯t even bother removing plentiful reminders of his previous wife adorning every corner of the cabin. When she isn¡¯t facing a family photo errantly left on her nightstand, Grace has to deal with the kids watching old home movies or setting up touchstones to needle her with additional nods to their beloved Laura.
That¡¯s to say nothing of the crucifix or Virgin Mary portrait staring back at Grace. Richard of all people ought to know better. Since he came to know her as the subject of a nonfiction book he wrote, Richard is well aware of Grace¡¯s awful past as the daughter of a radical religious leader whose sect committed ritualistic suicide in creepy Heaven¡¯s Gate fashion. Could Richard be any more careless?
Yes, he can. Called back to the city for a few days of work, Richard leaves Grace alone in the remote winter home with Aiden and Mia. While temperatures drop from a snowstorm outside, the temperature keeps cool inside as the kids continually dodge Grace¡¯s futile attempts to connect. Inner furnaces run hot however. Whether the ghosts come from Grace¡¯s past or the house¡¯s, haunting events increasingly harangue the stranded trio until Grace, Aiden, and Mia are forced to face the fact that they are united in their fear of a mystery driving them mad.
It¡¯s worth reiterating ¡°The Lodge¡± as the heir apparent to ¡°Hereditary¡¯s¡± style and substance since your feelings for that film likely fall along similar lines with this one. ¡°The Lodge¡± makes effective use of its long wick to stretch suspense toward nerve-wracking breaking points of near intolerability. Those moody moments and far distances of silence will cause skin to crawl for some while others are driven into impatience.
Progressing to a forceful yet subtle cadence, ¡°The Lodge¡¯s¡± timing stays mostly on point, only occasionally lagging behind where your mind organically sees fit to wander. At approximately the halfway point, the emphasis on establishing cerebral chills through casual camera creeps and softly screeching music finally compelled me to wish for something more substantial to happen. Five minutes later, it finally did.
Similarly, not terribly long after finding myself hoping ¡°The Lodge¡± wouldn¡¯t turn out to be another ¡°they¡¯ve been ghosts the whole time¡± movie, one of the characters addressed that possibility out loud. It feels like the film has a strong sense of how much rope it has before ambiguity requires a revelation, although it still teeters into fringes of frustration.
While I hope filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala aren¡¯t shoved into a Shyamalan pigeonhole where every project carries expectations of a dramatic narrative turn, this sophomore effort does hinge on a twist just as their debut feature ¡°Goodnight Mommy¡± (review here) did. I guessed where the movie was going not because the reveal isn¡¯t nestled well, but because as your brain fights to figure out what¡¯s happening so you aren¡¯t driven as crazy as the characters, you eventually run through all of the possibilities to conclude only one explanation can be grounded in some semblance of reality. Yet since the movie operates on a more psychological level than a tangibly visceral one, predicting the truth doesn¡¯t dilute immersion in the sickly sense of evil draped over drama.
A few sit-ups in the editing room to burn off a bit of flab could moisten dry spells that go on too long. ¡°The Lodge¡± still comes thoroughly recommended because I cannot immediately recall a movie whose bleakness, particularly the conclusion, feels so wickedly satisfying.
From exposition through the epilogue, the story consistently remains incredibly cruel to its characters. It¡¯s a masterful move to make an audience side so singularly with the crushed children only to deceptively pick at shifting sympathies that suddenly swing the other way. You feel totally terrible for Aiden and Mia the entire time. Then ¡°The Lodge¡± taps into animalistic anger and you find yourself desperately wanting to see Grace go crazy, giving these children their well-earned comeuppance. Compelling you to feel simultaneously satiated yet sickened by your own dark impulses is a separatist feat elevating ¡°The Lodge¡± into a unique tier of chilling thriller.
Despite its heartbreaking horror, ¡°The Lodge¡± isn¡¯t as raw as ¡°Hereditary,¡± partly because its plot is admittedly preposterous. At the same time, that element of improbable fantasy mercifully restrains the movie from developing too much depressing distress. This odd saving grace serves to differentiate the film with a traditional entertainment value other arthouse efforts are unable to emulate.
¡°The Lodge¡± had a similar effect on me as ¡°Hereditary¡± in that I can still picture its shocks, style, and story indelibly imprinted in my mind long after end credits conclude. As horror cinema experiences go, I can think of few more flattering accolades than to affirm this may be the best definition of what burrow-into-the-brain unsettling means.
Review Score: 75