After being pushed back from a November 2019 release date, The Lodge has been ‘out’ since February 7 of this year. However, not all of us live in fancy Nu Yourk Sity and had to wait for the wider release that took place this past weekend.
The question is: was it worth the wait?
Yes and no.
The Lodge has been getting praise for being one of those horror movies that sticks with you—and it does, like a really depressing documentary (tip: don’t watch Dear Zachary if you need to smile at any point for the next 8 days).
The Lodge is a bleak jaunt to the cinema. It’s a film saturated with nastiness and despair. Sometimes, though, that can be a worthy artistic experience. As the great Guillermo del Toro has said, a spiritual experience is not always something that lifts you up—sometimes it is one that brings you down. The Lodge is one such experience. Go here because you want to settle on in for a tale of dread and personal demons.
The Lodge is brought to us by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, the Austrian team who brought us Goodnight Mommy. Goodnight Mommy is recommended by Your Intrepid Host if you like other nasty, bleak horror movies as only Austrians could give us. The pair also apparently made a film called The Field Guide to Evil, which sounds too camp to not watch.
Having seen Goodnight Mommy, it was easy to see that Franz and Fiala were taking us to familiar places in The Lodge. I found that this would be a minimally supernatural horror and a fully psychological horror. There would be a twist teasing us throughout, finally being revealed with a huge crescendo of violence that is outright bonkers, and wrapping up comfortably in utter gloom. Cue credits. And that is exactly what I was delivered.
There are trappings of The Lodge that any horror fan can appreciate—creepy dolls, 80s home-videos, oblique references to real-life massacres, etc. Much like in Goodnight Mommy, Franz and Fiala seem delighted to trap broken families in isolated and/or ultra-modern dwellings. Snow and ice close in to trap our protagonists, bringing to mind The Shining or The Thing. The latter is featured on a TV in one scene. It was an interesting, perhaps intentional contrast to see the incredible colors and bombastic special effects in The Thing while shrouded in a film with a much more simplistic palette.
The Lodge’s release date may have been pushed back because of the many similarities it shares with last year’s The Lighthouse in terms of themes and visuals. In turn, that was a part of why it was hard to fully immerse myself within it—I’d kinda seen all of this before.
That was a consistent issue, particularly because I had seen Goodnight Mommy. See, much like Goodnight Mommy’s twist, The Lodge’s twist was easy to identify if you were looking for it. The twist was also very similar in theme. While Guillermo del Toro writes movies that emphasize how dangerous it is to be a child, Franz and Fiala write movies about how dangerous stupid yet diabolical kids can be for adults.
And here’s where we get to the clincher of why I had issues with The Lodge. If I could have, I would’ve titled this review “Why The Lodge Is About 2 Little Shits Who Get What They Deserve.”
Here is the plot:
○ Kids have divorced parents. Aw, sad.
○ Divorced Dad finds new girlfriend, Grace. Aw, well, that’s life.
○ Divorced mom takes her own life. Tragic, absolutely devastating.
○ Kids blame Grace for their mom’s suicide. Wow, sounds like those kids need therapy, but a natural albeit childish reaction.
○ Kids discover that as a child, Grace was the only survivor of a Christian death cult. Holy shit.
○ Dad decides that Grace and the kids should be left alone to bond over Christmas in the family lodge. That sounds really stupid and thoughtless—spoiler, the dad is a stupid and thoughtless character.***
○ The kids decide to take this opportunity to gaslight Grace for several days. Wait WTF? Seriously?!
○ Shenanigans ensue.
***That’s right—this is a Christmas movie. Forget Love Actually or Die Hard—put this on at the family holiday get-together and start a real conversation.
I’m spilling the ‘twist’ of the gaslighting outright because it was not a twist to me. To me, it was obvious that these kids were lying, manipulative, sadistic little shits.
And they are little shits, make no mistake.
These little fuckwads find out that this woman was subjected to true horror as a child. That she suffered immense trauma when she was their age. Do they react with compassion, empathy?
○ They find out that she takes medication—and hide it.
○ They try to kill her by tricking her on to thin ice.
○ They torture her with facetious religious devotion to mirror her horrific upbringing.
○ They KILL HER ADORABLE DOG.
And surprise, surprise—when you psychologically torture a traumatized person until they break. There are consequences. And sometimes those consequences bite you right on your selfish behind.
An additional criticism I have is how the film handles suicide as a motif.
First, the film starts with a suicide. And I’ve found this weird trend bubbling up inside our current horror renaissance. Seems like after Hereditary scarred its viewers for life in That Scene, the next step is to go “welp, guess we pounce a suicide on ‘em in the first 5 minutes”.
This happened in Midsommar, and happens here in The Lodge. In Midsommar, the scene seemed pointless but for shock value—it just wasn’t necessary other than as a suckerpunch to the audience.
In The Lodge, the mother’s suicide matters to plot—but the film just keeps rolling with that theme without much to back it up. The Lodge doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing with such a provocative, heavy motif. There are 5 separate visuals/references to suicide in this movie. If you are going to use that theme so often, you should do something with it rather than just slap it around for window dressing.
While I have my qualms about the rest of it, The Lodge does have a really solid cast.
Riley Keough does an incredible job as Grace. Keough has been in a few thriller/horror movies lately (It Comes At Night, Hold The Dark, The House That Jack Built). I may have recognized her from Magic Mike, but I ignored anything in that movie that didn’t rhyme with Fanning Matum. As Grace, Keough presents a naturalness even in horrifically unnatural situations. Your sympathy for Grace builds even as she transforms into a truly malevolent force.
A real creepy touch is that—as far as I can tell—the cult leader is played by Riley Keough’s real-life father, Danny Keough. I can’t confirm this because a) he’s listed in the cast but not given a role and b) in spite fathering Elvis Presley’s grandchild, I can’t find a photo of him more recent than the late 80s, which is extra creepy.
Jaeden Martell plays the oldest child, Aiden. It’s great to see Martell getting work after his appearances in IT and Knives Out. I think he was given too much direction of ‘be petulant’ for his own good, but otherwise he does great.
Lia McHugh plays youngest child, Mia. Her performance I thought was the better between her and Martell. However, the film can’t seem to decide her age. Sometimes she seemed younger than she looks—but that could be reversion in response to trauma. Still it was an inconsistency that bothered me.
Richard Armitage plays the dad, but who cares because he will never be hotter than when he played a dwarf.
Similar to Goodnight Mommy, there is something fairytale-like in what unfolds in The Lodge.
Children battle the “evil” stepmother. Grace is set up that way—her face is obscured for her first few scenes, indicating her as a negative presence or at least inhuman. Then the kids discover Grace’s connection to this real life horror. Again, it’s easy for us as the audience to go right along with the kids to see Grace as a malevolent force rather than as a victim.
In turn, the children try to wield forces of darkness that they do not understand. And they pay the price.
However, even at the end, when the tables have fully turned and the kids are holding each other and crying in the face of certain doom…I found it a bit hard to feel all that bad for them. You wanna root around in someone’s trunk of personal demons? Maybe this is what you get.
The kids seem to suspect, and there are small hints, that maybe Grace was not merely an innocent witness to the cult’s suicide at age 12. If we are to believe that children like our “protagonists” can be so diabolical and cruel, maybe it is plausible that as a child, Grace was also a monster. But if the kids do suspect that—WHY FUCK WITH HER? If this bitch could take out 39 people as a munchkin, don’t you think she’ll rain hell on you if you push her back to that place?
And indeed—Grace does just that.