February 4, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. suburb, the psychologicial horror film “The Lodge” has a cast of characters that are white and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two underage children have resentment toward their father’s mysterious girlfriend, whom the children blame for their mother’s death.
Culture Audience: “The Lodge,” which is an arthouse version of a Lifetime movie, will appeal primarily to horror fans who like movies to be simple and very predictable.
If “The Lodge” were a Lifetime movie, the title would be “The Wrong Babysitter: Trapped in the Snow.” In their first English-language film, Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (the duo who helmed the chilling 2014 horror film “Goodnight Mommy”) have taken a concept that’s fairly similar to “Goodnight Mommy”—two children and a woman isolated in a house—and made a watered-down, formulaic version of that idea. That’s not to say that “The Lodge” is a terrible movie, because the actors elevate a very sparse screenplay, which was co-written by Franz, Fiala and Sergio Casci. But because “The Lodge” telegraphs the villain’s intentions so early on in the story, it’s resulted in an utterly predictable film that breaks no new ground whatsoever.
The beginning of the movie is the most interesting, but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Laura Hall (played by Alicia Silverstone) is seen driving her two kids—17-year-old Aiden (played by Jaeden Martell) and 12-year-old Mia (played by Lia McHugh)—to a visit with the kids’ father, Laura’s estranged husband Richard (played by by Richard Armitage). As soon as they arrive, a tense Richard sends the kids off to get some candy at a nearby store because he says he wants to have a private talk with Laura.
During their conversation, Richard tells Laura that he wants to finalize their divorce because he wants to marry his girlfriend Grace. Laura’s devastated reaction indicates that she had been hoping that she and Richard were going to reconcile. The movie doesn’t come right out and say how long Richard and Laura have been separated and what caused their breakup, but it’s implied that Richard, who’s a newspaper journalist, left Laura for Grace, and it’s caused a lot of turmoil in the family.
That turmoil is evident in the car on the way to the visit, when Aiden makes it very clear that he despises Grace, because he tells his mother that he doesn’t even want to be around his dad’s girlfriend. Aiden dislikes her so much that he won’t even say her name. And when Richard and Laura are alone together at his place for their private talk, he reassures Laura before he begins the conversation: “She isn’t here.”
Within the first 10 minutes of the film, a tragedy occurs that results in Laura’s death. The heartbroken children find little comfort from their guilt-ridden father, because they partially blame him for their mother’s death. The other person the children blame is the mysterious Grace (played by Riley Keough), who doesn’t appear until about 20 minutes in the film, when Richard and the kids are about to take a family trip with her.
How did this fateful trip happen? Six months after Laura’s funeral, Richard nervously asks Aiden and Mia if it would be okay for Grace to come with them to their family lodge for the Christmas holiday season. The kids immediately say no. It’s not the response that Richard had hoped for, so he then puts the kids on a guilt trip by saying that they’re not giving Grace a chance to be a part of their family.
It’s at this time that Richard tells the children that he and Grace are getting married. And, of course, the kids take the news about as well as children being told that they have to live with an evil witch. Eventually, Richard loses patience with the kids’ stubborn refusal to accept Grace. He tells them that Grace will be spending the holidays with them at the lodge, so the kids have little choice but to accept those plans.
Before the trip, Aiden and Mia do some digging around on the Internet and find out that a rumor they heard about Grace is true: She used to be in a religious cult, where all the members except for Grace committed suicide when Grace was 12. There’s some eerie “found footage” of the mass suicide scene with Grace being discovered among the bodies, which have tape over their mouths and the word “sin” written on the tape. The kids also find Internet videos of the cult leader, a menacing-looking bearded priest, who’s portrayed in the movie by Riley Keough’s real-life father, Danny Keough.
Although the movie wants to establish that Aiden and Mia are bright young amateur detectives, this part of the story doesn’t have much credibility. In real life, the kids would’ve found out this information about Grace on the Internet as soon as they knew that their father was seriously dating her, and especially if that relationship broke up their parents’ marriage. It just doesn’t ring true that the kids would be curious about Grace’s background only after their mother’s death.
The kids don’t tell their father what they found out about Grace, which might seem odd, but that’s probably because the kids have a distant and tense relationship with their father since their mother died. It’s already been established that the children don’t like or trust Grace, and their father probably knows about Grace’s past but still wants to be with her, so the kids probably thought telling him this information wouldn’t change his mind. At any rate, neither Richard nor Grace discusses Grace’s past at all in this movie.
When Grace finally appears on screen, she seems to be the prototype of the “pretty younger girlfriend who ends up being a second wife.” But the way she’s written for this movie, she’s an incomplete sketch of a character. She’s generically pleasant on the surface, but there’s no mention of any interests that she has and what she’s doing with her life.
Although “The Lodge” screenwriters must have thought that keeping Grace so mysterious would benefit the story, it actually makes Grace a character that viewers won’t care about at all because she has no real personality. There’s no sense of how she was able to get into Richard’s life, what her previous relationships were like, and how she really feels about becoming a stepmother.
Grace is awkwardly polite to the kids as she tries to establish a rapport with them, but she also doesn’t acknowledge the impact that Laura had on the lives of the children and Richard. It’s almost as if she wants Laura to be erased from their lives—and that lack of empathy is a further indication of what Grace’s role is in this story.
However, there are so many questions that this movie puts forth but never answers: What was Grace’s life after the mass suicide? Why does Richard want to marry her, even knowing how much the marriage will hurt his kids? Is Grace just going to be a trophy wife or does she bring something more substantial to their relationship? Did she have any siblings? What were her parents like and how did they end up in the cult?
Because Grace’s personality is such an empty abyss and because the movie implies that she’s a “homewrecker,” it’s very clear that she’s going to be the story’s villain. And it’s also very obvious that things are not going to go well at the lodge when Richard suddenly has to leave for a few days because of a work-related matter, thereby leaving the kids alone with Grace. And before he leaves, he’s shown Grace the “family heirloom” gun and how to use it. To his surprise (but not to viewers’ surprise), she handles the gun like a pro during target practice.
And because these children are left alone with Grace, there’s only one way for the movie to go. The direction of the story is made even more obvious in the movie’s trailers. In the meantime, there’s a lot of flashbacks to the creepy leader of the cult, as his voice is heard echoing his stern orders: “Repent. Repent your sins.” There are some shadowy figures and strange messages scrawled on mirrors, but is it reality or it is something else?
When a blizzard hits the area, the power generator gets frozen, leaving the lodge without electricity. And that’s when weird things really start to happen. The contents of the refrigerator disappear. So do all the items in Grace’s drawers. And so does her dog that she brought on the trip. She blames the kids, who swear that they didn’t do anything wrong.
Riley Keough as Grace does a very good job with the limited character that she’s been given. Keough comes from a showbiz family—she’s the granddaughter of Elvis Presley and the eldest daughter of Lisa Marie Presley—and as an actress, she’s been doing solid appearances in mostly independent films. Martell (who’s best known for being in the “It” movies) is the movie’s other standout actor. He does a convincing portrayal of the emotionally wounded Aiden, who tries to be strong and protective of his younger sister. While Mia slowly warms up to Grace, Aiden never fully trusts Grace.
The pacing of “The Lodge” is meant to bring a slow burn to its suspense, but the movie seems to forget there’s really no suspense at all to this story and its inevitable ending. In between, there’s a lot of filler that has the intended spookiness, but the scares have been done much better in other “trapped in a snowstorm” horror flicks, most notably in 1980’s “The Shining” and 1982’s “The Thing.” Because of all that filler, “The Lodge” would have been much better-off as a short film with a length of less than 30 minutes.
Neon will release “The Lodge” in select U.S. cinemas on February 7, 2020.