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THE LODGE (2020) review

February 7, 2020

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written by: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala
produced by: Simon Oakes, Aliza James and Aaron Ryder
directed by: Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala
rated: R (for disturbing violence, some bloody images, language and brief nudity)
runtime: 108 min.
U.S. release date: February 7, 2020

 

Premiering just over a year ago at Sundance 2019 as one of the Midnight selections, “The Lodge” is finally seeing a release date here in the States. Granted, it’s not a wide release, but that’s not surprising considering the marketing from Neon has been slim. However, the reports from the film’s debut there was relatively good, giving me hope for another bizarrely twisted horror flick from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, the directing pair behind the creepy slow-burn of “Goodnight Mommy” from 2015. Like that film, the directors focus on the after effects of family trauma, this time in a wintry remote location during Christmas. Needless to say, unless your family is particularly twisted with a lean towards psychological madness and dread, this won’t be a holiday classic in the coming years.

Two siblings, teenager Aiden (Jaeden Lieberher) and his younger sister, Mia (Lisa McHugh), are feeling the awkward and uncertain tension of their parents crumbling marriage. Their father, Richard (Richard Armitage) has been delaying the divorce to his wife, Laura (Alicia Silverstone), in an effort to protect the children, while maintaining an  relationship with his girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough), whom he plans on marrying. Their family life takes a sudden devastating turn when Laura commits suicide, feeling there’s little she can change the inevitable.

 

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With the kids left in his care, Richard proposes a trip to the family’s remote lake house, hoping to give his kids a change to spend some quality time with their future stepmother. Upon their arrival, Richard is called back to work with the promise of rejoining them in a couple of days. This leaves an awkward trio in the house by themselves, the reluctant children left in the care of their father’s girlfriend, who finds her sanity put to the test when her emotional issues begin to surface. When a fierce snowstorm keeps them trapped in the house and the power goes out, nightmares start to become a reality as Graces’s sanity starts to unravel.

From the opening scenes, “The Lodge” develops an undercurrent of uncertainty as the family members are introduced, leading to that shocking gut punch scene. It’s an unforgettable moment in which Silverstone’s (so good here, yet all too brief) character takes herself out of the picture, figuratively and literally, and the rest of the story is haunted by the tragic event. In just a few scenes, Silverstone manages to convey that helpless feeling of being unloved and unwanted, which makes Grace’s entrance all the more awkward.

Obviously, Aiden and Mia are the ones most affected by Laura’s death. Both of them develop an anger towards their father and being the older sibling, Aiden takes it upon himself to comfort Mia, who is convinced their mother has no way of entering heaven since she committed suicide. The weight of grief the siblings must contend with bear is understandably heavy and the last thing on their minds is giving their father’s girlfriend a chance.

 

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The kids see Grace as someone who destroyed their mother and their lives and want nothing to do with her. Unfortunately, she is thrust into their lives by their selfish father. Actually, he’s not just selfish, he’s clueless. I have a problem with movies that have clueless parents, especially the kind who inhabit stories in which a child (or children, in this case) are experiencing trauma that is going unnoticed. I can understand Richard choosing his girlfriend over his wife, but once his children’s mother died, you’d think his new priority would be them. Nope. The new priority is provided and environment where his girlfriend and his children can bond. Clueless.

Furthermore, before Richard heads back into the city, he shows Grace where a gun is stowed away in a closet, supposedly for protection while he’s away.  There’s a scene where he takes her outside in an effort to teach her how to use the weapon and she surprises him by being quite adept at target practice. The screenplay by Franz, Fiala and Sergio Casci offer viewers indications that Grace’s mysterious past with a religious cult (they sought salvation by way of mass suicide) has left certain scar tissues. Aiden and Mia get a glimpse of her backstory while snooping around their father’s computer, further building whatever trust issues they have with Grace.

Religion plays a growing factor in “The Lodge” as the story unfolds. It doesn’t have a heavy-handed presence and its not related to something as overdone as demon possession, it’s just that it’s there under the surface. The house they stay out (I suppose it’s the titular “Lodge”, but it’s never referred to as such – there’s an abandoned structure that Grace finds in the middle of a snowy landscape that appears to be more akin to the title location) is adorned with crucifixes on the walls and a painted portrait that makes Grace uncomfortable, making her nose bleed at one point. It’s not clear whether or not the place is haunted or some powerful spiritual presence is having an effect on Grace, since Franz and Fiala have opted for a developed mood over any real discoveries.

 

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As “The Lodge” gets deeper into the third act, the focus is on how unhinged Grace is becoming. There’s clearer something more going on here that’s more akin to Kubrick’s “The Shining” than there is your basic cabin fever symptoms. Believable scenes of Grace’s paranoia and bizarre behavior by the kids are accentuated by some solid sound design and precise framing that deliver an appropriate uneasiness. Some of the story is a bit too on-the-nose, like when the kids select John Carpenter’s “The Thing” for movie viewing inside the lake house, but the directors mostly focus on taking their time in providing a chiller that’s more sedate than expected.

There are pros and cons to that approach and one blaring con is how “The Lodge” reaches a kind of unsatisfying conclusion. Regardless, the cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis (a frequent collaborator of director Yorgos Lanthimos on films like “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), is quiet striking and even oppressively bleak when required. As for performances, Keough is the standout, especially great (she typically is) as Grace, someone we’re not sure how we should feel for her throughout, yet her inner turmoil is convincingly conveyed.

While some may find the film’s pace frustrating, such a deliberate decision eventually becomes quite clear in order to imbue the story with a palpable tone. Despite having problems with the characterization of Richard, the something alluring and unsettling about “The Lodge” that’s undeniable. I ultimately found myself giving into it all, doing away with any questions or concerns and just allowing the aesthetic of the film to supersede anything else.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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