I’ve always preferred a measuredly paced horror movie over ones with a reliance on frenetic action. Such titles as The Shining, The Strangers and The Exorcist took great care to build towards a sense of dread. While nowhere close to their quality, The Lodge, from directors Severin Fiala and Veronica Franz (Goodnight Mommy), blends together elements from Hereditary, The Others, and yes, The Shining, to produce an effectively slow-building thriller, yet one with some deeply problematic issues.
After a shocking and traumatizing opening sequence, the film introduces us to Richard (Richard Armitage) and his two young children Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), who head off with Richard’s new fiancé Grace (Riley Keough) to their snowy, remote retreat. The children, however, cannot stand Grace, who they look at as an unwelcome interloper. Even their mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone), Richard’s ex-wife, has poisoned the well when it comes to Grace. Perhaps her past as the soul survivor of her father’s death cult and her oddly disconnected way of communicating contributes to their ill feelings, but either way, Grace can’t catch a break.
So, in a long list of terrible ideas he has, Richard leaves his kids at the lodge with her for a few days as he goes back to the city to work. No disrespect to death cults, but I’m just not drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to this plot point. Richard, especially at this time in his life, is kind of a jerk when he should just be a good dad. Needless to say, despite Grace’s many attempts to bond with the kids, things go terribly wrong. I won’t spoil anything further, but the film does a good job at making you switch loyalties and wonder what’s really happening. With a minimal cast and essentially one set, the directors do an excellent job at presenting claustrophobia and how it can affect a handful of vulnerable people.
Production Designer Sylvain Lemaitre and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis create a stark, uncluttered look for the film while composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans elicit fear with staccato strings and eerie soundscapes. Keough, however, owns the film as a woman trying to overcome her past and gain the trust of her future family. She’ll keep you guessing right up to the end. Same goes for Martell and McHugh as kids who are either wounded, bratty, sympathetic or psychotic. Think of it as a film filled to the brim with unreliable narrators.
I liked where this movie goes more than I bought into it. Accepting the various machinations requires quite a suspension of disbelief as a very complicated plan clicks into place. I’m also not convinced its depictions of people struggling with mental health ring true, but I enjoyed the deliciously plodding pace and lead performance enough to forgive its trespasses. Besides, it’s almost worth the price of admission alone for a scene in which a young girl reveals what’s really important to her when another character almost drowns in an icy lake. You definitely won’t feel good after seeing The Lodge, but Fiala and Franz know how to make you feel something. You may find yourself biting your fingernails as characters either try to overcome their pasts or control their futures, one, awful, long moment at a time.
Glenn Gaylord’s 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE: The Lodge gets a 0 out of 50. Think of it as Gay Ski Week in Vancouver minus the gays, the skis, and the all night ragers, and you too will be left alone in a lodge.
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
The Lodge is currently developing a cult following in theaters worldwide.