Some chilling imagery and effective tension-building notwithstanding, The Lodge has some plot turns that’ll give you brain freeze.
The Lodge, writer-director pair Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s English-language follow-up to Goodnight Mommy, is so clearly calibrated for a midnight Sundance slot that you could stamp a full house on your arthouse-horror bingo card before the end of the first act – which is probably just as well since it’s all downhill from there.
With a reliably demented leading performance from Riley Keough, two insufferable brats for the price of one, and those juicy underlying themes of grief, trauma, and dangerously deteriorating mental health, you’d be forgiven for thinking The Lodge is a wintry cousin of Ari Aster’s irrationally overrated breakout hit Hereditary. Both are airless, joyless films that prioritize slow-burn dread over shocks, both nonetheless include a deliberately shocking first-act WHOAH moment that kicks the plot into gear, both believe that aggressively crying in extreme close-up constitutes some kind of clever commentary on loss, and neither is very good. But I’m happy to report that The Lodge is better by virtue of not being so tortuously overlong, and indeed not descending quite so much into hokey supernaturalism, but it’s better in the way that, say, chlamydia is better than syphilis – I know which I’d choose if I had to, but I’d happily live without either.
In the interest of preserving some late-game plot turns that are best enjoyed – though perhaps that’s not the right word – as surprises, I’ll keep story details to a minimum. The setup, though, finds Richard Armitage as a journalist who, following the calamitous breakdown of his marriage to Laura (Alicia Silverstone), takes his children Aidan (Jaden Martell, making a career of playing smug little dorks) and Mia (Lia McHugh, who is 12 but somehow already has the demeanor of a mid-thirties area manager) to a remote cabin in the wintry wilderness to spend Christmas with his new squeeze, Grace (Keough). This might constitute a minor spoiler, though it isn’t treated as any kind of twist, but Grace was the sole survivor in a mass suicide that wiped out the fanatical religious cult that was shepherded by her father and that Richard was writing a book about when he met her. Nobody, presumably, told him about Tinder.
The Lodge has an opening act that’s good enough to make you disappointed rather than entertained when it all gets indescribably stupid. The relatable dramatic hook is of a woman, damaged in ways both obvious and not, trying to bond with the difficult children of her new boyfriend; you can rearrange those components into any number of scenarios that you’ve probably lived through in one form or another. It’s inexplicable that Richard would leave Grace in charge of the kids she doesn’t know and who clearly resent her in a far-flung lodge at the mercy of the elements, but there wouldn’t be a film if he didn’t. Besides, it’s just about the most sensible thing that happens anyway.
What actually happens after that I won’t spoil – not that you’d believe how dopily the film reveals and then undermines each increasingly ludicrous twist. If you don’t think about the mechanics too much you might indulge the implications, which are of a crushing, mean-spirited inevitability; the idea that deep-seated trauma is inescapable and will eventually overwhelm you anyway, no matter how much you felt you had begun to heal. There are some nasty spurts of violence and some eerily composed images, especially in a relatively lasting final sequence, but also a lot of contrived nonsense that’ll stick with you much longer.
If there’s a reason to watch The Lodge, it’s Keough, who resists the urge to go Full Collette in her depiction of spiraling despair. It’s a controlled performance in a film that tries its very best to push her into hysteria. All the elements that work, however intermittently, do so because of her. All the elements that don’t work, which is most of them, make you wish she’d directed her efforts elsewhere.
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