FILM REVIEW: THE LODGE (TELLURIDE HORROR SHOW)
Next up on FEAR FOREVER’S continued coverage of the 2019 TELLURIDE HORROR SHOW is the psychological horror film THE LODGE. I’ve been attending this particular fest for a number of years, and one of my favorite things are the “secret” Sunday screenings. Every year there are a number of “TBA” slots reserved for mystery films on Sunday. You never know what you’re going to get, but isn’t that part of the fun? It could be a replay of one of the festivals more popular films, or it may be something entirely different that is only playing on Sunday. This year it was revealed that one of the secret shows would be the critically acclaimed horror film THE LODGE. It would only be playing once, so you better believe I was going to be there.
THE LODGE is the sophomore feature from co-directors Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz. I was a big fan of their 2014 feature debut GOODNIGHT MOMMY, which I caught at the now defunct STANLEY FILM FEST. It was one of that particular years’ standout features, and an explosive introduction to this directing duo. I can tell you that five years later, THE LODGE was well worth the wait. It’s an exercise in minimalist isolation horror, and it packs a punch most viewers won’t see coming. THE LODGE relies heavily on its narrative uncertainty, so it’s important that this review be as spoiler free as possible.
The story revolves around two young children named Aidan (Jaeden Martell) & Mia (Lia McHugh) who are being forced to live with their father Richard (Richard Armitage) in the aftermath of an unforeseen tragedy. Aidan and Mia have been through a lot, and Aidan takes it upon himself to look out for his little sister, as any good big brother should. Richard has a new woman in his life named Grace (Riley Keough) that he’s been desperately trying to get his kids to accept. Grace also has an especially troubled past as the lone survivor of a suicide cult many years ago. Her past is no secret, and it’s something she has spent a long time trying to rectify with Richard’s help. Richard has every intention of making Grace his wife, so he’s going to need to bridge the gap between his new love and his children.
In an effort to sort of force his kids to accept Grace as a part of their lives, Richard decides that it would be best to spend Christmas at his isolated lodge in the middle of nowhere. His kids are not very keen on the idea, especially when Richard informs them that he’ll be leaving on a work trip for several days before Christmas. This means that Grace and the kids are going to be spending roughly a full week together…alone…in the cabin.
To say that this is a recipe for disaster is an understatement. Grace makes every effort to befriend the children with no progress. The kids want nothing to do with her, and ignore her at every turn. Even when Grace is attempting to make meals, the kids won’t join her to eat. It isn’t until one morning when the generator has failed and all the food and clothes have mysteriously disappeared from the house, that the shit really hits the fan. In addition to all the food and clothes missing from the house, Grace’s medication has also gone missing. We don’t know exactly what it is, but based on Grace’s past, it sounds like it could be some sort of antipsychotic. As Grace’s behavior becomes more unhinged, so does the kids behavior. It becomes a struggle for the sanity of everyone involved.
As I said earlier, THE LODGE is minimalist horror at its best. 90% of the film takes place in the isolated lodge in the middle of winter. The entire film is basically these three characters attempting to navigate the awkwardness around each other. It was impossible for me not to compare this film to the works of modern horror master Ari Aster, and I’m talking both HEREDITARY and MIDSOMMAR. The visual language of this film is very much akin to both of those features in terms of tone and what’s displayed on the screen. The film expertly depicts a broken family dynamic and even includes dollhouse miniatures a la HEREDITARY, and the majority of the film is drenched in white winter sunlight making the horrors that unfold even more uncomfortable. There was also a very interesting visual plot device where almost every window in the film is obscured or fogged over to almost tell the audience “you don’t have a clear picture of what’s really happening”. I found it a refreshing way to add an almost subconscious narrative structure to the actual narrative unfolding in the film.
At first I wasn’t sure where I stood on THE LODGE as a whole. As a few days passed I found it getting under my skin more and more. It isn’t without its flaws, as I found the second act to be agonizingly long. It was veering off in a number of directions before the third act revelations pushed everything into place. It was one of those “AH-HA” moments that can be so satisfying and rare in modern horror. It brought everything full circle, and actually recaptured my imagination after I wasn’t sure where we were headed. Watching everything play out, I could feel my pulse quicken and my palms get sweaty. It was a necessary journey to get to the wicked final payoff. I think that as the weather starts to get colder, and we bundle up inside our little corners of the world this winter, maybe cuddle up with someone near and dear to your heart and watch as this family disintegrates into a cold and bitter hell.
“THE LODGE is minimalist horror at its best“
3 ½ Tombstones out of 5…