Movie Review: ‘The Lodge’

Director: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone

Plot: A pair of young siblings are spending the week leading up to Christmas at an isolated lodge with their father’s new fiancee. The already tense situation worsens when unexplained events begin to take place.

Review: The opening ten minutes of this movie is damn harrowing. Then it continues to be harrowing for quite some time after that. It’s not the kind of horror movie you pop in for some light-hearted fun and silly jump-scares. This is a hard-hitting psychological mess that will have you second guessing yourself as the mystery and drama unfold. In terms of delivering a powerful prologue, this movie hooks you straight in. The performance of young Lia McHugh as Mia Hall in these opening scenes is heartbreaking.

Mia and her brother Aiden (Martell) are already unhappy with their father’s new betrothed. Richard Hall (Armitage) researches and writes about cults, and he met the much younger Grace (Keough) when she was the subject of a major project. When she was a child, Grace’s father was the leader of a fundamentalist Christian cult and she was the only survivor of their mass suicide. Now older, Grace is still carrying much psychological baggage, treated medically, but strives to be a friendly and positive presence for Mia and Aiden. The children resent her for coming between their parents and act opening hostile towards her as their father takes the group out to their winter lodge.

The relationship between the three are further tested when Richard returns to town for work, leaving them by themselves. In spite of Grace’s best efforts the children refuse to give her any ground. Grace is personally struggling with the Catholic iconography left on display by Richard’s ex-wife Laura (Silverstone). One morning, when Grace awakens, she finds the house cleared off their possession, the food, her dog, the Christmas decorations she’d hung up and, most worryingly, her medication. She is immediately suspicious of the children pulling a cruel prank on her, but notes that their treasured items are also missing.

Aiden comes up with his own theory, that a faulty gas heater poisoned them and they’re experiencing purgatory. He continues to find evidence for this theory including the clock being turned forward several days and a series of strange dreams. Grace because to see strange images related to her own childhood trauma.

This is where the film is the most engaging. Film-makers Franz and Fiala manage a balancing act where the audience isn’t sure if Aiden’s purgatory theory, supernatural occurrences, the children elaborately and sadistically tormenting Grace or Grace suffering a mental breakdown. An attentive viewer will be able pick up on details that support any of these alternatives. Grace is our point of view character for the bulk of the film, and her obviously degrading mindset provides an unreliable perspective as we can never be sure if what we’re seeing is accurate.

Limiting the story almost entirely to a single location could be restricting, but it’s incredibly effective in the way it’s shot. The repetition of certain framing and locations helps to emphasise the changes that occur during the film, and often has a satisfactory pay-off when things go completely off the rails in the violent third act. The blizzard wracked landscape surrounding them only serves to heighten the peril they’re in as there’s no physical separation from their predicament.

One annoyance during the film was the repeated insert shots of a creepy doll’s house that belongs to Mia. It’s not a bad symbolic device in itself, but it gets very over-used and feels like it’s trying to bash us over the head with blunt symbolism. Whether intentional or not, it also makes the film feel like it’s taking a leaf from Hereditary, and this film is not on that level.

At the end of the movie, when all is revealed, it’s the not the satisfying sting in the tail that you may be hoping for. It’s a competent psychological horror with some strong ideas, but doesn’t do anything to set it apart in the modern market.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN