Synopsis – A soon-to-be stepmom is snowed in with her fiancé’s two children at a remote holiday village. Just as relations begin to thaw between the trio, some strange and frightening events take place.
My Take – While the generally audience continues to lap up jump scare filled horror thrillers, certain set of filmmakers are determined to stay on the other side of the genre by keeping their films light on jump scares and instead choosing to bring terror in compelling human-stories that slowly build up the tension to a powerful climax.
Joining as the latest entry in this trend of horror-dramas, like The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch, Hereditary and Midsommar, is Austrian co-writers/co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s follow-up to their feature debut Goodnight Mommy, in the form of a new deeply unnerving horror tale that is filled with authentic dread.
Fitted with eerie imagery and a perplexing yet interesting plot, the film is the peak of slow-burns including little to no actual jump scares. Instead, here directors Fiala and Franz focus on the eeriness of music, loud sounds and subtle but intentional camera shots to induce paranoia upon viewers. You don’t quite know where the film is going at times, but when it gets there it’s intense.
However, unlike the previously mentioned films, I personally found this one a bit muddled in comparison. Yes, the core concept is a solid classic set-up, but it failed to keep me engaged and invested in the characters, which in the end dulled the overall impact when the horrific events began happening.
While the film is stricken with deep-seeded grief unlike any other I have seen before, like most horror dramas, this one too is sure to leave its viewers divided on exactly where this falls on the horror spectrum.
The story follows the Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), siblings who are still grieving the sudden loss of their mother, Laura (Alicia Silverstone), but upon insistence from their father Richard (Richard Armitage), agree to go on a holiday getaway to a remote lakeside lodge. In real, Richard wants his young children to bond with Grace (Riley Keough), his new flame, and in order to create a bonding experience between them, he leaves them alone at the lodge for a few days, promising to return for Christmas.
While the three begin to bond, following a few missteps, soon, incomprehensible events start occurring around them. With the all the decorations, along with their personal belongings suddenly gone, as blizzard bears down on, the three find themselves cut from the outside world. Making matters worse, Grace’s past guilt of being the sole survivor of a mass suicide led by her father’s cult starts to become intertwined through their isolation.
The film gives us a view of cults and faith that is beyond your stream of murders and things that go bump in the night. It truly is a lesson on how far people will go for their beliefs. The setting contributes to the film as well. The use of snow and cold play on the emotions, temperament, and actions of the characters. It’s like a blank canvas where anything can happen. The whole set up works best in the first 75 minutes or so, when directors Franza and Fiala allow the build-up to occur. The filmmakers specialize in capturing the trauma the kids are enduring, and the actors express grief and fear in a way that is very authentic and bleak.
The film, which first bowed at Sundance in 2019, moves at a glacial pace for the first hour before ratcheting up the intensity. Even at its peak however, this is still a slow burn, playing psychological games on its subjects and viewers. But unlike their previous venture, this time around, there’s far less violence.
Yet, the most terrifying element to the the film is just how it captures human trauma which feels so real – the thought that any of us can be surrounded by people and never know what’s beneath the surface of their psyche. And directors Fiala and Franz confidently take their time to build the tension, every beat methodical, so the gut-punch of a pay-off is earned on its own terms.
With lots of long, static shots, repeated looks inside a miniature dollhouse and an unpredictable musical score keeping the viewer continually on edge with its sudden strings and pealing bells, that also benefits greatly from daringly long sequences that prove almost completely (and perhaps unbearably) silent.
Having said all that, I must also admit that I really struggled to keep myself engaged with the proceedings, unlike its predecessors. Mainly, while it does provide some chills, it doesn’t have enough to stand out remarkably, and instead seems to be borrowing from other horrors that have come before it. A miniature dollhouse is reminiscent of Hereditary, and well, any kids in a horror film are bound to be a little on the creepy side.
Also filmgoers keen on plot will likely disapprove of the logic, or lack thereof, here. On a surface level, many of the characters’ choices will probably read as unrealistic, or downright silly. The third-act reveals might seem unbelievable, or completely asinine. The resolution’s reluctance to answer all questions may drive some mad.
However, in my opinion, the biggest failing of the film, is how the main character of Grace was written, irrespective of Keough‘s performance. Despite having a compelling backstory, I never felt like acknowledging her in the condition she found herself in or what Richard saw in her other than the beauty of course. I think with stronger and clearer characterization, Grace would have made a very sympathetic protagonist that I would have rooted for, allowing the horror to be more effective.
Yes, despite that fact, Riley Keough deserves praise for her eerily rendered performance. With every release and appearance Keough is continuing to prove why she is one of the most effective and layered actresses working today. Here, her performance is grounded in heartbreak and menace but also balanced with grace. The young lad, Jaeden Martell brings in yet another deceptively calculated performance (after Knives Out), while Lia McHugh‘s devastating performance is equally laudable.
Richard Armitage is also quite effective despite a shorter screen time. In a brief role, Alicia Silverstone reminds us again why we need to see her in more films. On the whole, ‘The Lodge’ is a moody chiller which despite being effectively disturbing and unsettling doesn’t hold itself too well.
Rated – R
Run Time – 108 minutes