The Lodge is Hampered by a Lack of Conviction
Warning: Discussion of general plot points for The Lodge follow. Sometimes, we can’t escape the past: childhood lessons aren’t unlearned, just temporarily forgotten, and trauma may be repressed, but not erased. So posits The Lodge, the new film from the writer-director team of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. This isn’t new territory for the horror genre, but The Lodge doesn’t seem particularly interested in breaking new ground — on the whole, the film seems more interested in repurposing familiar horror tropes in service of its bleak parable, with strong central performances and austere design working to keep the endeavor afloat as it threatens to collapse under its own weight. The Lodge starts, as so many horror films do, with a family in crisis. Richard (Richard Armitage) and Laura (Alicia Silverstone) are in the midst of a messy separation, complicated by the presence of Grace (Riley Keough), Richard’s new girlfriend and their children Aiden and Mia (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh). To say the kids are resisting Grace’s intrusion into the inner circle is putting it mildly, but Richard’s solution to the problem — leaving Grace alone with the kids at an isolated cabin in the dead of winter so they can “get to know each other” — raises some eyebrows, especially given Grace’s history as the last remaining member of a suicide cult led by her father. This isn’t the first set of horror cliches the film latches onto, but it takes a while for the whiff of derivativeness to really grab hold. The early goings are appropriately ominous, with the camera lingering in the corners of the titular lodge and in an eerie dollhouse the children have left in disarray at home (calling to mind 2018’s Hereditary). The actors are initially given time to breathe and settle into their characters, with Keough characteristically excellent as a woman trying to make her way in a world that doesn’t seem built for her and Martell keeping pace as the older brother attempting to protect his family’s delicate emotional state. But once Grace, Aiden, and Mia are left alone, the genre tropes escalate, with all the disembodied creaking and spooky hallucinations you might expect. That’s not to say the film’s scares aren’t effective — the filmmakers’ tendency towards stillness serves them well here as the audience finds themselves anxiously awaiting the outcome of every camera movement and corner turn. The Lodge’s real problem lies beneath the surface, with a plot so full of twists and turns that it undermines the handful of unique ideas it does have. In particular, the film ramps up to a decision about halfway through that promises to take the story in a truly innovative and melancholy direction before pulling the rug out from under us yet again and settling into something far less interesting and far more familiar. Compounding matters further, the initial twist has much more narrative support than the subsequent development — while suspension of disbelief is often a feature rather than a bug of the horror genre, you still have to maintain a certain level of internal logic, and the film’s third act stretches the boundaries of plausibility close to the breaking point. And as the credits roll following the suitably downbeat but far-from-inspired conclusion, we’re left, more than anything, with the disappointing emptiness of what could have been.