Two years ago, the silver screen was graced with the presence of Ari Aster’s directorial debut, “Hereditary.” It shocked the world with a seamless blend of family grief, supernatural and atmospheric elements, as well as lending more legitimacy and mainstream recognition to A24’s ever-growing brand. The film was also part of a trend of recent horror releases that are expanding upon the genre, foregoing tried and true cliches and tropes for a serious knack for storytelling and character. Recent examples include James Wan’s “Conjuring” films, “The Babadook,” Scott Derrikson’s “Sinister,” and directorial debuts from Robert Eggers & Jordan Peele, “The Witch” and “Get Out.”
Another film has come on the scene to toe the line between real-world evils and atmospheric tension, writer/directors Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala’s “The Lodge,”. The story follows a family suffering from a recent tragedy and attempts to overcome it with a nice, simple trip to a snow-logged cabin in the middle of nowhere, Massachusetts. The father, Richard (Richard Armitage), then has to depart for work, leaving his two children (Jaeden Martell & Lia McHugh) with their soon to be stepmother Grace (Riley Keough), who is revealed to have been the subject of a book Richard was writing due to having grown up in a cult that committed ritualist suicide. Soon after, a series of haunting events begin to affect the three, as they begin to not be able to tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.
This film was distributed by Neon, a studio that has popped up in recent years that, similar to A24, has become known for entrusting new, auteur filmmakers with risky projects that seek to push the boundaries of conventional cinema. The similarities don’t stop there. The opening shot of this film establishes similarities to the aforementioned “Hereditary,” with its use of dolls as symbolism/foreshadowing the character’s fates. The production design is eerily similar to both “Hereditary” and Neon’s most recent unexpected success, Best Picture winner “Parasite.” The long, winding shots of seemingly endless scenery help to reinforce the film’s already gripping atmosphere. And that’s before we even get into the subject matter.
Without giving too much away, the film wears its influence on its metaphorical sleeve, but that doesn’t take away from its overall impact. The Lodge builds tension through its continuous shots and atmosphere brilliantly. The impactful moments hit when they need to, with a lot of gusto and enough emotional weight so as not to reduce the moments to shock value. The performances are all very weighed down and subtle, a bit to a fault as the characters do spend a lot more time in the film reacting to the things happening around them rather than actually expressing themselves. The three main leads all deliver solid performances to back up their characters, and the writing is intriguing and morally gray enough such as to never necessarily make the audience root for one character over another.
Where this film falters, however, is in the execution of its theme. Certain choices made within the film do not seem to lend themselves to the characters in credible ways, and it can make the plot feel especially confusing. The film is deliberately attempting to mislead the audience, that much is clear, but there are certain moments where the absurdity of the situation being presented seems to overshadow the atmosphere just a bit.
Ultimately, The Lodge is a movie about grief, trauma and the inability to move on from the deceased who impact our lives. The tension and atmosphere are there, but the film is missing that little bit of edge to really stick the landing [B+].
Review by Dominic Rizzi