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The Lodge

In my last entry a week ago, I wrote a lengthy opening statement about the industry shakeups that led to upstarts like Lionsgate, STX, Netflix, and Amazon stepping up as worthy rivals to Paramount, Viacom, AT&T Time Warner, and Sony. I listed Neon as one of the upstart studios in question, though it seemed a bit presumptuous at the time. Flash forward to this weekend, when The Lodge hit my local multiplex while Portrait of a Lady on Fire is still playing and Parasite is still on its Best Picture victory lap.

A year ago, nobody knew who Neon was. Now they have three — count ’em, THREE — movies running on the big screen at once. And all three of them have found critical success. Now there can be no doubt, Neon is a studio to watch.

The Lodge comes to us from Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, the aunt/nephew filmmaking team who previously gave us the creepy-as-fuck Goodnight Mommy. Last time, we got a psychological horror film stuck in a house with twin boys and a woman who may or may not be their actual mother. This time, we’ve got a psychological horror film in which two siblings are snowed into a house with their new stepmom.

Let’s get into details, shall we?

The premise begins with Richard, played by Richard Armitage. He’s left his wife for a younger woman (Grace, played by Riley Keough) and he wants the divorce finalized so he can marry Grace. The wife in question (Laura, played by Alicia Silverstone) responds to this by killing herself.

And we’re not even ten minutes into the movie.

Cut to six months later. Grace and Richard are still planning on getting married, and Richard’s kids (Aidan and Mia, respectively played by Jaeden Martell nee Lieberher and Lia McHugh) are still in mourning. Also, the kids still hate their prospective stepmom, labeling her a psychopath.

See, Aidan and Mia were raised to be good Christians with a strong abiding love for their lord and savior. Grace grew up in a religious cult, and was (inexplicably) the sole survivor after everyone else in the cult killed themselves. So while the kids see God the loving and redeeming father figure, Grace sees God the hellfire and brimstone destroyer of unrepentant sinners. It’s a difference of interpretation that of course the kidswere never raised to understand, and they have no idea just how far deep those scars go.

Anyway, Richard comes up with the brilliant idea of leaving Grace and the kids alone to hash out their differences in a remote mountain cabin. What starts out as a bad idea gets even worse when the snow piles up and the power cuts out, so now all the cell phones are out of juice, the heating is gone, and the lights are all dark. And then things inexplicably start to go missing. Including Grace’s psychiatric meds.

Things get increasingly weird, and our characters get increasingly desperate to find an explanation. Much as Grace genuinely wants to be on good terms with her would-be stepkids, she knows they don’t like her and thus she has little reason to trust them. Then again, given Grace’s history of trauma and her sudden lack of medication, nobody — not even Grace herself, alas — is entirely sure of what she’s doing or why. It’s a situation in which there are no bad guys, only unwilling victims and unwitting perpetrators.

Until the big reveal comes. Of course I won’t spoil what’s really going on, but that was the moment in which I completely lost all sympathy for the characters involved. It was also the moment in which the themes came into sharp focus and the movie finally crystallizes.

This is very much a movie about sins and repentance. For Grace, that means making amends for whatever damage she may have caused to this family. For the kids, that means atoning for whatever they’ve put their parents and Grace through. But how many of these perceived sins are simply the complaints of hormonal teenagers in mourning for their dead (by suicide, no less) mother? How many of these slights are the grievances of a woman off her meds, stuck in a house that isn’t hers with two kids that aren’t her own?

On the flip side, there’s the matter of redemption. Is any amount of pain and suffering truly necessary to make amends? At what point has that debt been paid? What does it take? Well, here’s a hint: To the best of my recollection, not a single character ever says “I’m sorry” at any point in the movie. If any of the characters ever directly acknowledged wrongdoing, expressed sympathy for each others’ pain, or offered even a token apology, this might have been a very different film.

Speaking of which, let’s circle back around to the religious angle. It cannot possibly be overstated that Grace and the kids see the same God in two very different ways. For Aidan and Mia, redemption means accepting Jesus Christ as one’s personal lord and savior, living a happy life knowing that all sins are forgiven. For Grace, that same acceptance means horrible self-inflicted suffering, and faith that happiness will only come until after death (if then). Two conflicting viewpoints on what is ostensibly the same deity, and both are fundamentally incapable of understanding the other.

These are all bold and fascinating ideas, made far more compelling in execution. If I wasn’t dancing around spoilers, I could keep on dissecting and examining this stuff for several more pages. But it’s still not enough to make for a good movie.

The recurring musical motif of “Nearer My God to Thee” got tiresome rather quickly. Even worse was the emphasis on dolls and dollhouses, a threadbare horror cliche that added nothing. The camerawork and editing were sadly unimpressive, with so many shots done in extreme close-up for no discernible reason.

Most importantly of all, the scares just aren’t there until the third act. The basic conceit of “shit gets weird in an isolated cabin” has been done to death, and there’s not much of anything outside the established formula until the big reveal. Up until that point, I simply took it for granted that everything was fake and waited with growing impatience for the explanation behind everything. At which point, I hated the characters all the more and got a kind of sick satisfaction in watching their comeuppance unfold.

How does The Lodge stack up against Goodnight Mommy? I’d say that Lodge had better ideas and more compelling themes, but Mommy had better scares and more enthralling atmosphere. It’s definitely a slow burn, but your mileage will vary wildly with regards to whether the payoff is worth it. Lodge is still decent enough as a work of prestige horror, but there’s an unavoidable sense of wasted potential. Check it out on video if you’re curious.

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