2020 | rated R | starring Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage | directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz | 1 hr 48 mins |
Very shortly after the tragic death of their mother, Aidan (Jaeden Martell, It) and Mia (Lia McHugh) are confronted with their dad (Richard Armitage)’s desire to move on, sweeping into their lives his fiance Grace (Riley Keough) for a Christmas vacation at the family cabin. Soon dad is called away on business leaving the 3 together in close quarters. While the kids struggle with the resentment of their mom’s replacement and Grace struggles with her own tragic past, the power goes out and the isolation drives all 3 of them mad.
After their startling debut film Goodnight Mommy, writer/directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz return for an English-language, slightly more accessible thriller much in the same vein, where questions of identity lead to paranoia. I would say The Lodge is the better movie and, in fact, one of my favorite slow-burn horror movies of recent memory. When Ti West came on the horror scene with The House of the Devil and Intruders he re-invigorated the 70s style slow burn genre – movies where nothing happens until suddenly a lot happens but are awash in a tense atmosphere. The Lodge is more of what I would point to as a textbook example of how to make this type of movie. To hell with Ti West and his time-filling. It is a movie where superficially not a lot exciting is happening, but it is methodically, smartly, moving the pieces around, drawing you into it’s insanity and dolling out bits of information with such delicious subtlety and understatement that if you turn away for a second you may miss a single hushed line that turns the entire story in another direction.
Instead of filling the time, the Fiala and Franz put up 4 walls of a hotbox inside which is a clash of ideas and emotions with shifting perspectives and sympathies. We start with the unfairness of Aidan and Mia suddenly confronted with a stranger for a stepmom, then the movie shifts to Grace’s mindset and the awkwardness of being the stepmom trying to make it work and accidently stepping in family faux pas. All of them put in this situation by their dad who immediately leaves along with all responsibility. Paranoia creeps in. We pick up pieces of the back story. Grace met their father through a book he was writing. The book about a cult that Grace was in. A cult that committed mass suicide.
What you really need to know when venturing into a slow burn film that moves at an icy pace and remains at arm length from it’s characters is, does it all pay off? Where a Ti West movie would sputter out, The Lodge not only pays off, it is one of the best endings of the year. Haunting, ambitious and hard to forget. The performances are terrific. Keough has that Ruth Wilson mastery of ambiguity, where it’s hard to look at her face and tell if she’s the hero or the villain of the piece. Young Lia McHugh gives a heart-breaking star-maker performance as young Mia wracked over the loss of her mother. Usually movies this reliant on hallucinations set pieces aren’t this structurally solid, even to the point of introducing a Chekov’s gun that will absolutely go off before the end.
The Lodge bares more than a passing resemblance to my favorite film of 2018, Ari Aster’s gothic, ice cold Hereditary. It is steeped in misery porn tragedy and using dolls and dollhouses as creepy props. Here those creepy dolls are part of the puzzle and those that may have been turned off by Hereditary’s gonzo third act may find The Lodge’s understated horror more appealing. While it sheds off a few points for sacrificing character for it’s puzzlebox nature (I would like to know more about the kids), The Lodge is a great work of delicious atmospheric insanity that slowly draws us in and demands our absolute attention – and maybe even a repeat viewing.