Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala are the directing duo who in 2015 chilled the entire nation with their debut movie Goodnight, Mommy. That little horror movie, which initially made its New York premiere during New Directors / New Films, introduced a clever bit of storytelling about the tenuous love-hate relationship that can happen between a struggling parent and her twin boys. The atmosphere was packed to the gills with dread dripping from every frame and there were hints that there might be something… off about the mother, who during the most of the movie was acting rather strange. Adding to that a near complete isolation from the outside world (although that house the directors picked truly is gorgeous) and an impending sense that something terrible could happen to the two brothers you had a solid little chiller that made a lasting impact while also bumming the nation with its rather horrifying ending.
The premise of their follow up, The Lodge, a movie that made its premiere at Sundance last year, is almost identical at the bare-bones level. Here we have a family devoid of warmth entering a lodge located in the middle of nowhere. Husband and wife Richard and Laura (Richard Armitage and Alicia Silverstone in a striking cameo that suggests madness just underneath her placid features) enter the frame, and you already know something is off about their body language. They’re not happy to have come here, and the father has something he needs to discuss with the wife. What he discusses is pretty much the stuff that drove the wife of Lamb to the Slaughter to the extreme, but instead of applying all that pent up rage on the husband… she smiles, goes up to her room, and blows her brains out in one cold shot.
That sets the entire movie for the events that are next to unfold. With the wife not even cold in the grave, the Richard has taken up with Grace (Riley Keough), a young woman who as a girl was the only survivor of a cult of the likes that tend to drink the kool-aid in the false belief that they will ascend to heaven, their sins purged. His two young children, Aidan an Mia (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) accuse Grace of being responsible of their mothers suicide, and are distraught that she will not ascend to Heaven. In an effort to bond, Richard takes his soon-to-be-wife and two kids up to the same lodge where the previous events occurred, because that is what you do when you want your family to come together. Grace is already showing some signs she’s a bit ‘off’ herself and we realize she is heavily medicated. You really wonder what on Earth was Richard thinking when he decided to replace Laura with Grace with disastrous consequences.
At first, not much really happens, but hints are thrown that perhaps there is something supernatural afoot. The dog growls at something unseen in the night, and Grace almost falls through the ice while attempting to retrieve Mia’s doll replica of Laura. When Richard leaves for work, the simmering hostility that was hinted between the kids and Grace takes center stage and soon the movie turns into a perverse version of Turn of the Screw with the two terrorizing themselves and Grace as things go bump in the night, the house loses power, time stops, and she begins to start having nightmares about her father that have her awakening in the middle of the night outside in the cold, with no idea how she got there. For the most, the setup is solid, if a bit aloof, and I was perfectly okay with that because disorientation and isolation make for excellent horror (and if not check The Lighthouse). It’s when matters threaten to get out of hand (and then they do) that the movie somehow doesn’t quite know how to catch up to its own predicament. We’re then left with a story heading into a chilling third act, a rather lazy revelation, and then this sudden act of violence that is supposed to somehow be horrifying but instead feels tacked on.
For the most part, the movie is a solid watch and everyone is on point, particularly Riley Keough as the damaged young woman at the centre of the maelstrom. When she first appears we’ve received so much negative information about her that we really aren’t prepared for her character to emerge as a rather soft spoken person who is just trying to act normal in a rather tense situation. [Although, this could have also gone the opposite way and have her underplay her part until we got a big reveal; it’s been done before many times.] My only issue would be how her character goes so far off the deep end once the supernatural and her own mental instability (plus other factors) collide in a perfect storm. I could, however, see a parallel between Grace’s character and Laura’s: both are victims of religion, which festers all over the house, but the demise of the first seems to bleed into the slow meltdown of the second.
Franz and Fiala clearly have solid views on how to explore the topic of family units dissolving into madness and victims of perverse systems castigating themselves for sins they have no control over. However, the latter half of the movie wrings all the suspense and the dread out of its center, rendering a family tragedy a rather cold mess that doesn’t even feature an adequate, emotional pay-off. However, if you compare The Lodge with what’s on now, this one shines with flying colors.
On its own, The Lodge is effective, but not exactly logical or memorable.