Film Review – The Lodge
The Lodge (2020) is the kind of horror film that isn’t interested in jumping out at you and yelling, “Boo!” Instead, its terror is a slow, methodical, building dread that seeps into your bones and lives within you, like a bad memory you can’t forget. Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz – the writing/directing duo who created some buzz with their previous effort, Goodnight Mommy (2014) – returns with a tale depicting a gradual descent into madness. Some may watch this and not completely buy into what they (along with co-writer Sergio Casci) lay out, but the skill level is so exquisite that it’s hard to ignore the craftsmanship.
The story actually has a lot of similarities with Goodnight Mommy. In that, a pair of twins struggle with the harsh reality that their mother – who just undergone cosmetic surgery – looks and acts nothing like the woman they once knew. In The Lodge, siblings Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) must also come to grips with their father Richard (Richard Armitage) taking in a new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough) soon after their real mother’s untimely death. To try to smooth things over with them, Richard decides to take them all out on Christmas holiday to a snowy, secluded lodge.
Things change when Richard has to leave for work for a few days, leaving Grace, Aidan, and Mia alone in the lodge. Good turns to bad and then to worse as small events start to build up, throwing the dynamic of three off kilter. First the power goes out, then a snowstorm arrives trapping them in, and then personal items mysteriously get moved around or disappear completely. The situation is already tough to start out – with two kids having to co-exist with a possible maternal figure they never wanted. Reality and fantasy start to meld into an explosive situation, like a ticking time bomb ready to go off at a moment’s notice.
Fiala and Franz are masters at creating atmosphere. Almost from the outset, they toss us into a brooding, claustrophobic environment where characters are placed within confined spaces. There is a constant dollhouse motif, reminiscent to one used in Hereditary (2018). Here, the dollhouse is an exact replica of the lodge itself. The cinematography (Thimios Bakatakis) shoots indoor sets in a such a way that we are not sure if we are in the dollhouse or in the lodge. Characters are often placed low within the frame, to make it look as though we are peering into the side of the dollhouse. The camera has a patience that is unnerving, slowing making its way around hallways and corridors, heightening the anticipation of some danger just around the corner.
The quality of the aesthetics wouldn’t work as well as it did if it weren’t bolstered by strong performances. This is where Riley Keough shines. While we enter the story through the eyes of Aidan and Mia, the central figure is clearly Grace. Not only does she have to navigate being a new person within an established family, but also carry the burden of a terrible past she is unable to shake. Aidan and Mia learn of this (which I will not disclose to you here), and that only adds to the mounting tension. As the plot moves forward, Grace starts to undergo a transformation that only a skilled performer can pull off. We follow her along as her emotional state goes through a blender, but Keough tackles the challenge and meets it head on. It’s a terrific performance and should be remembered.
As good as the direction and acting are, there is a major twist that has the potential to unravel the entire narrative. It happens in the latter half of the film, and it’s such a big revelation that it changes our entire outlook on the characters and story. Some may see this and completely lose all interest. The twist is problematic in that it arrives early and is telegraphed a bit too clearly. While I can see how this may cause people to shake their heads and walk out of the theater disappointed, I didn’t think the narrative choice was so egregious that it undid everything that came before it. It may be of benefit to some viewers to go into the film knowing this tidbit: this is not a redemptive tale.
But even with that said, The Lodge is so finely made that I was glued to the screen the entire way through, often at the edge of my seat held in suspense. When you are in the hands of filmmakers that are this confident and in control of their material, you can’t help but admire the artistry in front of you. I respected Goodnight Mommy and I like The Lodge quite a bit. With this kind of trajectory, I eagerly look forward to what Fiala and Franz has dialed up next. Hopefully it’ll come sooner rather than later.