Pulling from horror/thriller classics, The Lodge tells the story of two children and their soon-to-be stepmother snowbound in a house with mysterious ongoings and looming spirits. Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala make an aesthetically memorable film with an impressive cast, yet the thrills are few and far between. (3/5)
Review by Vice President and Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky
A third of the way through the film, a young brother and sister sit on a couch in a snowy cabin with their dad’s fiance, watching the Christmas family favorite movie Jack Frost (the Michael Keaton version where a deceased father returns to his son as a snowman). In The Lodge, a deceased mother returns to her children in the form of a doll – sort of.
In the early aftermath of their mother’s suicide, two children (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) are left in the care of their father and his new fiance (Riley Keough) who is seemingly normal for being the lone survivor of her psychotic family cult. When father-of-the-year leaves his kids with his fiance for “work” at Christmastime, the three have to spend awkward, forced time together in the titular lodge where creepy oil paintings echo with voices and dolls teleport from room to room.
The film cleverly pays homage to the horror genre; a composite of people, places and things from moviemaking past. Here, Alicia Silverstone is assumed to be the main character when the film opens, but quickly goes the way of Drew Barrymore in Scream and Janet Leigh in Psycho. It’s more shocking in The Lodge though, simply by its gruesome visuals not for the faint of heart. Other nods include Cabin Fever and The Shining as well as the doll-centric trope in Annabelle and The Conjuring. Clearly, Franz and Fiala tried to grasp the techniques greats and utilize them throughout the entirety of the film. However, one thing majorly lacking is the suspense.
The nosebleeds, cults, dolls and all-things-creepy are the least interesting aspects of film. Rather, the human moments are the highlight (a rare element found in the genre). If all of the “possessed” scenes were eliminated in the re-cut of this movie, you would find a surprisingly sweet indie film about a woman who slowly forges a bond with her soon-to-be stepchildren.
Perhaps the familial elements work because of the strong performances of the three leads, particularly Martell who uses his experience in dramedy (St. Vincent), horror (the IT franchise) and suspense (Knives Out) to his advantage. As the older brother to a young, sad sister The Lodge, Martell brings grounded realness to every role he inhabits. The relationship between the siblings on screen diverts from the stereotypical “leave me alone” dynamic so many films use, assuming that is how every single brother-sister relationship is in real life. But when these characters unexpectedly lose their mother to suicide, Martell (as Aiden) brings a pillow and a blanket into his little sister’s room and sleeps next to her, comforting her by the hold of his hand. It’s poignant and sweet and a look into what these filmmakers can – and might – do in the future.
Keough, too, is a unique lead character who is given enough screen time to show her range. She dons the role of a playful, newly-engaged fiance, an awkward stepmother trying to navigate her role in the family – and also a possessed, demon-like killer. Even with her commanding onscreen presence, it just isn’t enough to forgive the whacky, religion-skewed, not-so-scary scares.
© Brigid K. Presecky (2/12/20) FF2 Media
Photos: The Lodge (Credits: NEON)
Grace (Riley Keough) has solo scenes with her soon-to-be stepdaughter, Mia (a delightful and promising Lia McHugh).