Almost every time I review a horror movie, I talk about mood, atmosphere and tonal control. To me, those are vital elements in this kind of movie. The Lodge, a claustrophobic story that is as much psychological thriller as it is horror, succeeds by creating and maintaining a genuine sense of unease. The setup is simple, filled with fraught emotions. When secrets are revealed, well, it is a mild disappointment. The last act does not quite live up to the first two. People seeking jump-scares, blood and gore should look elsewhere. It is closer in approach to Ari Aster’s Hereditary or Midsommar than what we would traditionally classify as horror. It takes a bit of an easy way out down the stretch; still, fans of this type of contemporary horror will want to check it out.
Teenage Aidan and tween Mia are mourning the death of their mother, who committed suicide after their father, Richard, told her he was intending to remarry. Six months later, he persuades his kids to come with him and his girlfriend, Grace, to the family’s isolated lodge for Christmas. When he leaves for a few days, the relationship between Grace and the kids gets tenser and odd happenings cause Grace to begin doubting her sanity.
The Lodge (102 minutes without the end credits) plays with ideas of grief and guilt, some of them coming from religion. Aidan and Mia are devastated by their mother’s death, which they blame Grace for. Grace had a traumatic childhood that continues to haunt her; her father was a cult leader who preached repentance from sin before presiding over a ritual suicide. Grace is distinctly aware of the children’s resentment and is hoping she can get through to them. When they are left alone, Aidan and Mia’s dislike is magnified, as is their fear that Grace is unstable. For Grace, she is stuck with two angry children in a house full of reminders of their late mother (specifically, crosses that trigger memories of her father). All of this is great setup for something terrifying.
Alas, it does not totally get there. The Lodge is definitely creepy, yet it never gets to truly scary. That said, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (an Austrian team who previously made the even creepier Goodnight Mommy) give it their best effort by using their space very well. The home is cold and dark, like it could be housing something ominous. Despite the area outside being technically open, it feels designed to keep them inside. The white from the ice and snow is overwhelming and the weather makes it impossible to safely travel. Once things get bad, there is nothing they can do and no way to get help. A sense of place is important in this genre; The Lodge absolutely has it.
It is able to mostly survive its bumpier parts because of Riley Keough, who plays Grace. Initially, we need to be as unsure of her as the kids are. She shows us someone who is friendly, though it is reasonable to suspect there is something wrong under the surface. Keough is effective as a woman whose damage is behind her, until she is confronted with it. It can be difficult for an actor to pull off a character who is supposed to remain a mystery to the audience. While I did not entirely believe where Grace ends up, Keough was convincing. Jaeden Martell as the sullen Aidan and Lia McHugh as the scared Mia are also good; however, they are made to behave in ways I was unable to buy, causing them to get lost in the climactic plot developments.
The Lodge does not belong on the list of great horror movies from the past few years, but it is a near miss. The pieces are all here, they just do not fit together when they need to. For over an hour, it is very compelling. The ending does not completely squander that start (there are a couple of late shots in particular that are disturbing), even if it does not finish as satisfyingly. It does so much right that I recommend it to viewers who like their thrillers dark. It is a good try.
3½ out of 5
Riley Keough as Grace
Jaeden Martell as Aidan
Lia McHugh as Mia
Richard Armitage as Richard
Directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz
Written by Sergio Casci, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz