I am way behind on reviewing this film, but to say “The Lodge” comes highly recommended is an understatement. Released in February and receiving mild critical acclaim, “The Lodge” is a psychological horror film that some have compared positively to genre classics like “The Shining” and “Hereditary” due to it’s slow burn aesthetic and focus on atmosphere and visceral horror over jump scares. It only truly landed on my radar as lists of must-see films released in the first half of 2020 started to surface with several sources calling it one of the best horror films of the year to date. Telling the story of a woman stranded in a cabin with her soon-to-be stepchildren “The Lodge” borrows many tropes and genre elements from its predecessors but rarely feels like a copycat film in spite of its familiarity.
Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala and written by Franz, “The Lodge” stars Riley Keough as Grace Marshall, the lone survivor of a suicide cult which her father founded when she was a kid. Years after her survival her mental scars and PTSD are kept in check through medication. Grace gets involved with a man named Richard (Richard Armitage) who was researching the cult and eventually agrees to marry him. Richard brings his two children, Aidan and Mia (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh respectively) along on a family trip to a lodge for Christmas however Richard leaves Grace and the kids alone as he tends to a work commitment out of town. Over several days Grace and the kids realize something isn’t right but is it the isolation getting the best of them or are their supernatural horrors abound haunting them at the lodge?
“The Lodge” can be easily split into two halves. The first half of the movie is all exposition and establishing the relationships of the characters and at almost the exact half-way point the creepy stuff starts to take hold and things take a turn for the terrifying. I will admit that even as a fan of slow burn horror the first half of this film was rather unengaging. It’s not bad, but I’ve seen better and more interesting setups and I did eventually find myself asking when the film would get to the point. This is more a warning to those with little patience that it does take time to get to the horror than it is a true flaw of the film itself. Thankfully once things start to careen out of control it puts you completely on edge until the big twist is casually revealed and an even more dangerous evil surfaces than we initially expected. “The Lodge” does a fine job of slight of hand, presenting you with several different possibilities of what the horror could be before eventually revealing the true evil which, as it turns out, is a direct result of the actions of several characters themselves making the ambiguous final moments even more satisfying.
The payoff after all the buildup is what, for me, makes this movie so enjoyable. Like every good slow burn the journey to the reveal might be a bit tedious and frustrating for some, but the final destination is worth the wait. What could have easily been a generic ghost story evolves seamlessly into a dark examination of the destructive effects a lack of empathy and understanding as well as and past trauma can have on the human psyche. The use of an enclosed and claustrophobic setting like a lodge, while cliché by nature, also plays well into the story as it isolates the characters from the outside world making it difficult to determine what is real and what’s not until we are told the true reality of the situation and we see the characters coming to grips with the truth on screen along with us. I found myself genuinely relating to the hopelessness and confusion the characters, especially Grace, feel especially when she tries to keep the two children calm but also keep her deteriorating sanity in check.
Riley Kough is a big part of why this movie works. She takes center stage as Grace guiding the audience through this terrifying ordeal not just into the dark realities of her own mind and the isolation of the lodge, but also the very real human terror of trying to bond with children who aren’t actually her own. Like most good horror movies of this type, “The Lodge” does a great job mixing real human experience with dark and somewhat supernatural horrors allowing the narrative to breath and find significance on multiple levels. Is this a symbolic interpretations of the terrors of being a stepparent? Is it a thinly veiled allegory for PTSD? Is it just a fun psychological horror experience that delves into the human minds darkest places? Depending on what you’re looking for it can genuinely be all of the above. The child actors are also well cast as Jaeden Martell, who previous proved himself in “Knives Out” and “It”, and Lia McHugh work very well together as on-screen siblings and ride a delicate line with Keough’s Grace that successfully keeps the big reveal hidden until the final act. Even Alicia Silverstone, who has a small role at the start of the film as Aidan and Mia’s mother, does a decent job with her limited screen time especially when portraying one of the most horribly realistic moments of self-harm I’ve ever seen in a horror picture in only the first fifteen minutes.
While its slow burn storytelling, performances and sense of atmosphere are highlights, “The Lodge” does suffer from an overwhelming sense of familiarity. It’s not the most unique slow burn out there and anyone familier with the best horror pictures of the 2010s will plainly see some of the influences that played into this production. However, to its credit as I said at the start it never feels like a copycat film. “The Lodge” merely borrows clichés and tropes and adapts them effectively for its own purposes, something I’ve credited many films for in the past. It rises above its clichés to provide an experience that might seem familiar but also contains its own unique personality and direction leading to a dark conclusion that drives home every warning and sin committed in the film to that point. All-in-all it’s a pretty neat slow burn. Not exactly something I’m clamoring to watch a second time, but I agree wholeheartedly with many critics that it’s one of the better horror films of the early half of 2020.