Did you love It Comes at Night and Hereditary? Then, you’re likely going to love The Lodge. Did you hate or find the aforementioned films to be underwhelming? Then, you shouldn’t expect to get a lot out of The Lodge, which hits theatres worldwide in a week (February 7th).
I watched The Lodge two months ago at the Torino Film Festival, in Italy, where there are quite strict rules on sharing reviews for movies that haven’t been released more widely. Finally, though, the embargo is over and I can share my thoughts about this movie with you guys! Directed by the Austrian couple Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz, The Lodge is their first English-language movie, filmed in Canada and starring only American and British actors. Now, my expectations for this film were quite high, considering their debut feature – Goodnight Mommy – was either my second or third favourite horror film of the decade before The Lighthouse came out. Does The Lodge live up to the hype, though?
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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The Lodge – plot and pacing
The film begins with Laura (Alicia Silverston… former Batgirl) taking her kids Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) to their dad Richard (Richard Armitage): through some very clever and purposeful filmmaking, we find out Laura is suffering from severe depression caused by Richard wanting to divorce her. In fact, he’s already dating Grace (Riley Keough) and plans to marry her in the space of a few months. After something really traumatic happens to the family, Richard decides to take his kids to the family lodge for Christmas, together with Grace: Aidan and Mia are, obviously, very reluctant. However, when the kids and their new stepmom are forced to spend a couple of days together in the lodge, the trio seemingly begins to bond, until strange, frightening occurrences start taking place…
Despite an apparently dense plot, not a lot happens in The Lodge. Just like Goodnight Mommy, this film features a rather plodding pace where the most important events are implied rather than shown. In fact, The Lodge develops its story on two different levels: on a surface level, very few things actually happen, but on a deeper level this is a very dense film. In this regard, the film has the same narrative structure as It Comes at Night and a similar subtext to Hereditary, with the inclusion of a creepy dollhouse and cult-esque aspects that feel very reminiscent of Ari Aster’s debut film.
Uneasiness in presentation
Just like all great filmmakers do, Fiala and Franz are able to create an unsettling and almost disturbing atmosphere relying purely on the visual presentation of The Lodge. During the first five minutes of this film, I genuinely thought cinematography and camera-work were sloppy and poorly done. Until I realised it was done on purpose. In The Lodge, framing and shot composition are constantly off-balance: for example, every medium and wide shot includes an unusual amount of space of the characters’ head as to imply they’re pressured by some sort of psychological burden. In the few close-ups, instead, the camera is placed in a way that makes the shots look crooked and unpleasant. All of this is done to visually create an atmosphere of tension and uneasiness: even if you don’t notice that on a conscious level, your brain does and, therefore, you feel inexplicably creeped out and uncomfortable while watching the film.
On top of that, the film relies entirely on natural lighting which, given the dark colours in the lodge and the snowy setting outside, makes the images very sombre and even hard to watch. This is particularly effective due to the fact that your eyes recognise there’s something scary in the corner of most shots, but you can’t really make out what it is. In this regard, the almost-total absence of a soundtrack makes The Lodge even more terrifying: as a viewer, you are transported in a world that’s dark and mysterious, where you’re left alone with your thoughts as you try to figure out what the hell is going on in the movie.
Unsettling experience through unintelligible characters
Due to the masterful filmmaking at play here, The Lodge manages to be extremely atmospheric and unsettling from beginning to end, but it doesn’t shy away from sudden moments of shock and sheer terror. Such sequences come unexpectedly, with no apparent build-up, and they are so brief that you don’t get the time to figure out what or why such horrible things happened. To be clear, those disturbing moments are very psychological and they don’t rely on gore or violence: it’s a completely different concept of scares than both gory flicks and run-of-the-mill mainstream schlock,
A big reason why these scenes – as well as the overall movie – really work is dependent on the way characters are written and performed. Within this very small set of characters in The Lodge, everyone is clearly defined through clever dialogue and fantastic reaction shots, but you never fully understand their agency in the film. Aside from enhancing the mystery aspect of The Lodge, this decision makes you uncomfortable with every single character in the movie, including the kids. In this regard, I can’t help but praise the performances by Jaeden Martell (who was great in It, 2017, as well) and Lia McHugh: their acting never fails to feel realistic and genuine. Obviously, though, the standout performance is Riley Keough’s, as she’s the most multi-layered character and the one that benefits from a very rich and complex backstory.
The Lodge vs Hereditary
Because of Grace’s backstory, many critics and viewers pointed out similarities between The Lodge and Hereditary, claiming Fiala and Franz were heavily inspired by Ari Aster in the making of The Lodge. This may be true in terms of visuals, but the script for The Lodge was actually ready back in 2017, one year before Hereditary came out!
Aside from that, the two films have very different goals and meanings, making it impossible (and even a bit insulting) to consider The Lodge as a rip-off of Hereditary. These two great horror pictures might have similar pacing and settings, but that’s just part of the psychological horror sub-genre they somewhat belong to.
Issues and Conclusions
As I said before on this website, Goodnight Mommy is a nearly-flawless psychological horror film. As much as I love The Lodge, I can’t say the same thing about it. In fact, The Lodge has one of the most unique and impeccable visual presentations I’ve experienced in a horror film, but it does feature a few issues within the script. The biggest one is the cliché about the dad’s character: he disappears after the first act and doesn’t come back until later on in the movie, as though the filmmakers couldn’t really figure out what to do with him. This is very typical of sub-par horror flicks and it’s such a copout to avoid working harder on the script itself. Aside from that, there are a couple of minor clichés in the film, such as a lazy Google search sequence, and a few minute inconsistencies with the surface-level plot.
That said, The Lodge is without a doubt one of my favourite horror films of 2019. I think it’s the kind of horror movie that will piss many people off, so keep in mind you’re not going to like it if you didn’t like It Comes at Night, Hereditary, The VVitch and any number of psychological horror films that require attention and effort. Regardless, this is a fantastic picture with loads to appreciate on a visual level and a lot of elements to read into and pick up on with multiple viewings.
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