The Lodge (2019)

SEPTEMBER 28, 2019


Having missed the first few nights of Beyond Fest due to unexpected medical issues (bleeding ulcer, I'm OK now I think), I finally got to make my first trip there for The Lodge, which is an unusual way to kick things off. The fest routinely programs wild/outlandish fare (both new and old), and this film is a "slow burn" type that keeps its insanity confined to the mind of one of its characters - the sort of thing I'd expect to watch on a quiet night at home, not at the same festival that frequently employs the use of T-shirt cannons and eating contests. That said, it was an intriguing and mostly successful example of its kind, not to mention the best new Hammer film since Wake Wood, and will do well with folks who don't mind their horror to be a little on the moody and atmospheric side.

Riley Keough stars as Grace, a woman who is about to marry a man with two children from a previous marriage. The kids naturally don't like her all that much, so the dad (Richard Armitage) figures maybe spending the holidays at his cabin will help them bond a bit - especially during a three day period right before Christmas Day that he has to return to the city for some work matters. Naturally, things don't go too swimmingly - a snowstorm confines them to the lodge, which then loses power to boot. And worst of all - one morning they wake up to find all of their belongings missing, with Grace suspecting her will-be stepchildren of doing it on purpose to drive her crazy. But as it gets colder and their supplies run out, could the kids really be to blame when they're at risk as well? Is someone else in the house with them, or are supernatural forces the real culprit?

Naturally I won't spoil that for you, but I will say that up until the point we have our answer, the film works terrifically. Keough (no stranger to slow burn/isolated thriller fare, having appeared in the very undercooked It Comes At Night) has a tough role to play and she handles it well, as Grace isn't just the usual "stepmom" kind of character who oversteps her boundaries and needs to prove herself. No, she's actually the lone survivor of a Heaven's Gate-style cult led by her father (so essentially she's Jennifer Rubin from Bad Dreams!), and clearly hasn't fully adjusted to normal life yet - established by some medication she needs to take, which is of course among the things that go missing along with the rest of their stuff. So as her mind cracks even further, she switches from protagonist to antagonist, as we fear for the lives of the children - all the while remembering that they may be the true villains all along.

And it's easy enough to believe they may be, as this is from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. They are the team that gave us the evil child movie Goodnight Mommy, and the film shares a number of similarities - up to and including spending the entire movie wondering if we can trust its lead actress. Thankfully their approach has improved; I enjoyed Goodnight Mommy but my overall opinion was stymied by the way they handled their key twist, as I never could tell if it was even SUPPOSED to be one (in that it was so obvious to me by the film's twenty minute mark I wasn't sure if it was something they were even trying to hide). Here, it's clear that they don't want you to be that far ahead, allowing for a little more variety in the action and a little less time spent wondering how I as a viewer was supposed to be taking in this or that scene, so overall I found it to be a better film.

Unfortunately, once they do tell us exactly what happened, the movie kind of fizzles. As with Us, it almost might have been better to leave things unexplained, because by opening that Pandora's Box I found myself left with more questions (chiefly among them: what exactly was ______ hoping to accomplish?), and less engaged with the film's climax than I should have been. It's not that the answer is bad on its own, it's just that it's not particularly well developed, and even somewhat contradicts earlier information (can't really explain that one without spoiling, so I'll just say to consider an early scene involving a computer). There's also a curious lack of information about how Grace ended up with Armitage's character - the kids say she's a psychopath "from Dad's books" but his job is so vague I'm not even sure if they mean a book he wrote or a book he owned (and if he's an author, what kind of backwards ass movie writer is this where he has to LEAVE his isolated cabin to get some work done?).

But until then, they really had me hooked in - for proof, I stayed awake the entire time even though I was still very much low energy thanks to my hospital stay (and, as a result of the prognosis, I certainly wasn't partaking in anything sugary or with caffeine). The production design alone made the film worth watching - as with Hereditary, there's a bit of a dollhouse motif that spreads to the real sets, as everything seems just slightly off (in this case, hallways seem unnaturally narrow, while the bedrooms have awkward amounts of space between furniture), and Thimios Bakatakis' camera almost never stops gliding and slow zooming its way around the areas. And it pays tribute to its snowbound horror masters in both overt (they literally watch The Thing) and subtle (Grace's dog is named Grady, heh). Also, Keough sports some very excellent sweaters - as my rare chances to wear my sweaters are the thing I hate most about living in California, I find myself increasingly drawn to people wearing them in movies, the way wannabe gangsters idolize The Godfather and what not.

It's a shame Neon won't be releasing the film until February; its snowy look and Christmas setting would sell more tickets in November or December I'd think, but what do I know? It's the one thing I dislike about reviewing festival films - by the time it's out, I might forget a few things and not have the time for a second watch, so more people will be seeing it and I'll have trouble remembering what they're referring to, especially when by spoiler law I had to be vague with my review and won't be able to consult it for any specific reminders. The blunder in the last reel isn't crippling; it isn't the first and won't be the last movie that couldn't quite maintain its allure in the home stretch, especially among these slow burn types. Here's hoping the marketing doesn't spoil its surprises (the below trailer doesn't give too much away, though as always it's better to go in blind for these kind of films) and that it finds the folks who will enjoy it - and that Franz & Fiala's next film manages to make its ambiguous nature pay off in the end, instead of unnecessarily restraining it.

What say you?


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