As many of its peers before it, THE LODGE rode a mildly disappointing arc of festival hype it didn’t have all that much chance of living up to. Released during Sundance 2019, the film garnered some modest buzz considering the debut film from directing duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala was 2014’s vicious slow-burner, GOODNIGHT MOMMY, but received a muted release cycle, pushed back from a Thanksgiving-adjacent slot and somewhat unceremoniously given a limited release by NEON in early February. Now in wide release across the nation, the hot take on THE LODGE is that… it’s fine. Though gamely helmed by Riley Keough, while interesting concepts are at play on paper, the film can’t manage to stick the ending, taking both the easiest and most dour exit as it hurriedly opens doors to find the one that leads to the end.
Laura Hall (Alicia Silverstone) commits suicide after her husband, the investigative journalist Richard (Richard Armitage), submits his vote for a divorce after a period of separation brought on by his increasing interest in Grace (Riley Keough), the sole survivor of a fundamentalist Christian cult led by her father, the members of which committed a mass suicide. Richard’s children, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), are understandably resistant to Grace’s attempts to get close to them, neither party particularly looking forward to Richard’s suggestion of heading to the old family lodge in Massachusetts for the Christmas holidays. Things off to a tense start, tensions increase as Richard has to go into town for business. Left alone with the children, strange occurrences begin to steadily rev up, leading Grace to wonder who, or what, is targeting the trio as weather conditions worsen.
To its credit, the strongest point in THE LODGE’s favor is the acting. Keough is an entirely capable lead, showcasing a shy timidity that gradually gets hardened into something far more potentially dangerous as time goes on with no thawing in the ice outside or the kids’ attitude towards her. Never indulging in the expected histrionics facing most horror protagonists in crisis, by the time the end rolls around, Grace herself proves the old adage of less being more in terms of accumulating ominous menace, leading to a genuinely uneasy final 15 minutes or so. What’s more, and perhaps more importantly, Martell and McHugh are among the better child actors in modern pop culture, showcasing an easy chemistry that proves that they’ll always have each other’s backs, for better, and as ultimately ends up being the case, worse. Martell’s snivelling aloofness is the perfect foil to McHugh’s (at least outwardly) friendly and vulnerable exterior, and Grace’s failed attempts to connect with them tug at the heartstrings.
Unfortunately, the stellar performances can’t save what ends up being a whiffling script. It’s hard to discuss without offering spoilers, but there are effectively three “explanations” for what’s occurring at the titular forest getaway. Starting off with the standard creaks and bumps in the night of a paranormal haunting, THE LODGE is briefly electric upon introducing quite a daring and innovative reveal in the second act. It’s regrettable, then, that Franz and Fiala elect to go down the path most head-scratching by the end, choosing a route that gives them the most work in terms of pulling things off convincingly. Unsurprisingly, we’re left with disbelieving scoffs instead of what would have been genuine admiration had they stuck with the riskier narrative, even if the third act has its own insular thrills to be found in Grace finally succumbing to her demons (I’ll leave whether they’re figurative or literal for you to find out for yourself).
You’ll be disappointed 🙂 !
Nevertheless, perhaps the most damning critique to lobby against THE LODGE is the plain and simple fact that it’s really quite a bit of a downer. Electing to intricately pick apart and dismantle every part of the defenses and healthy practices Grace built up over her period of recovery after leaving the cult, it’s hard not to begin to feel a bit queasy by the end as the final scene rolls around, unsure of why we needed to see this character treated the way that she was. There’s plenty of questions of moral ambiguity at play, sure, starting with whether or not we resent Richard for handling his original marriage’s dissolution the way that he did, and those who wrong Grace certainly see the results of their actions writ large by the end, but Franz and Fiala’s first time in their directors’ chairs easily laps this as far as chewy themes and morals are concerned. Perhaps the forgiving way of spinning all this is that the film “sticks with you,” but if it’s only really in the sense of leaving us depressed upon seeing nobody leave the lodge unscathed, it’s cheap emotional terrorism instead of anything legitimtely evocative.
It’s early in the year, and low-budget genre projects are a dime a dozen as we ramp up for the Marvel heavy-hitters and big-name spooky blockbusters to land in the cultural consciousness. As such, it doesn’t really behoove me to dunk on THE LODGE all that much. It’s something different, certainly, it offers a comparatively unique combination of “elevated” A24 aesthetics and Blumhouse shlock, and it does manage to land an impressive twist before hurriedly retconning itself. At the end of the day, if you’re a horror fan, there’s no reason to not pop on THE LODGE for a late-night snack, even if it’s a good deal more forgettable than the early buzz may have led you to believe.