Director: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz
Writers: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Sergio Casci,
Stars: Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell
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.
If just the thought of spending several blizzard-bound days trapped in a secluded cabin in the woods with no one but your fiancé’s two rude children is all it takes to send shivers up and down your spine, then The Lodge might be too much for you. Because those bratty kids are just the beginning of the terrors that unfold.
What makes Severin Fiala and Veronica Franz’s latest film special is the horror in The Lodge is devised almost entirely atmospherically; the icy mood mirrors the chilly setting perfectly. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a well executed jump scare—in fact, in many ways jump scares are their own art form—but the nightmare here is brewed organically, sort of. 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.
Riley Keough plays Grace, a protagonist that this film waits for a bit to introduce. So when we finally meet Grace, we already have impressions of who we think she is, thanks to Aiden and Mia’s delve into her troubling past. Turns out, their soon-to-be-stepmother is the sole survivor of her father’s cult’s mass suicide. Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh play the discourteous youngsters who wish to convince their father and the audience early on that Grace is psychotic.
Aiden and Mia’s ire is understandable. Their investigative-writer father, played by Richard Armitage, cheated on their mom with the subject of his latest sensationalistic book, then asked for a divorce in order to be with this disturbed young woman instead the mother of his children. In playing Laura, the rejected wife, Alicia Silverstone is tasked with establishing the feeling of utter unease that this story carries from start to finish. She embodies dread so thoroughly in the opening scenes that there’s no doubt that this will be a painful moviegoing experience. Her ubiquitous unrest looms, like a specter, even when she’s not on screen.
As her children, Martell and McHugh might play the most interesting characters in The Lodge. While Silverstone is the mood incarnate, Martell and McHugh are the themes incarnate. Aiden and Mia spend the whole runtime in mourning for what used to be their idyllic home. So much of the film’s horror stems from idea of the dissolution of family—and the cruel acts that such a schism could drive people to commit. Because Aiden and Mia blame Grace for what has become of their family, and are quite mean to her in turn: they ignore her, refuse her gestures of goodwill, and actively alienate her.
Keough delivers an eerily rendered performance as Grace. She crafts a character who’s easy to sympathize with, even if you too blame her for breaking up this family—although, if you really want to get into it, that’s Richard’s fault actually. Grace, a victim of deep psychological trauma, just wants a normal life with a normal family as she moves on and gets better. But if the horror films of decades past have taught us anything, it’s the fact that getting snowbound in a piously decorated lodging that’s larger than it ought to be—while somehow still inciting an air of claustrophobia—is not good for anyone’s mental health.
To exacerbate matters, with the snowstorm comes a seemingly otherworldly menace. The cabin’s power vanishes. The clocks keep changing. Belongings disappear, including Grace’s medication. Upon being deprived of her pills—on top of Aiden and Mia’s bullying and the abode’s abundance of triggering religious iconography—Grace’s darkest memories buoy and anxieties escalate. By this point in the story, Fiala and Franz have already steeped this film so thoroughly in an almost unbearable tea of disquiet that the approaching terrors feel a long while coming.
Frequent Yorgos Lanthimos collaborator Thimios Bakatakis frames every shot so as to evoke total discomfort. So many angles feel ever so slightly off, to a purposefully distressing effect—a signature technique of Gilbert Taylor’s. Simultaneously, he plays with shades of blue and grey to convey a sense of foreboding, a unsettling coldness that masquerades as serenity. This visually represents how far the directors want us to stay from these characters, because we’re never really supposed to know them or what they’re thinking, not really; it adds to the mystery. Bakatakis also utilizes the full spectrum of light on his painter’s palette from scene to scene: from chiaroscuro keys to emanate a distrustful presence, to dim fills that further elicit the murkiness of the plot, and back again.
Moviegoers keen on plot will likely disapprove of the logic, or lack thereof, within The Lodge. 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. But that’s all perfectly fine. Because, to borrow from Aristotle, plot is not this film’s primary dramatic element. The Lodge is rooted in thought and theme; it’s emblematic. So don’t get too hung up on rationality. Basically, to misquote Margo Channing, “Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
If a conceptual narrative is not enough, the shortcomings of the script are also saved through the actors. Riley Keough proves once again that she’s a star on the rise—she’ll knock the hell out of you when you least expect it. Jaeden Martell’s performance is deceptively calculated, and one that viewers would probably get more out of on a second watch. Lia McHugh, with her devastating turn as a vexed daughter in mourning, shows why she should be on every casting director’s radar. And Richard Armitage… is very dashing.
The Lodge is not for everyone. It’s not even for every horror enthusiast, as a guileful and sneakily cerebral picture about how our pain can push us to inflict pain upon others, especially those closest to us. Hurt people hurt people, as the adage goes. At the very least, let’s all agree that it’s always nice to add another grim film to the Christmas scary movie canon. Because nothing gets me in the yuletide spirit quite like a moody chiller about a cataclysmal family.
Overall Grade: B
Hear our podcast review on Episode 366: