This January was an abysmal month for horror films. The Grudge became the first film to receive an F CinemaScore in over 2 years, and a mere 3 weeks later, The Turning became the second. So, The Lodge couldn’t arrive at a better time to breathe life into the season, though its focus on atmosphere and tone over a linear and cohesive narrative may still put off audiences looking for more traditional scares. The sophomore narrative effort from writer/director team Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala is unnerving and baffling, once again displaying the Austrian duo’s penchant for moody psychological horror. Like with their previous narrative feature Goodnight Mommy, if you can resist the urge to scrutinize the plot, there’s plenty to appreciate in The Lodge.
Goodnight Mommy, though critically acclaimed, was a major disappointment for those repelled more by the film’s absurdly telegraphed twist than the graphic violent content. Similar to French horror staple High Tension, the reliance on an idiotic, illogical twist at the film’s center renders the narrative completely unintelligible and flat-out stupid. Though The Lodge similarly falls apart the moment you try to make sense of the puzzling plot, the filmmakers smartly focus on the atmosphere rather than worrying about narrative cohesion or a gimmicky twist. They lean into the abstraction, making the film far more psychologically stimulating than hollowly shocking or pseudo-cerebral.
The plot’s tangibility begins and ends with the set-up. Riley Keough plays Grace, an affable, though still mysterious woman who takes a trip to the titular lodge with her fiancé Richard and his two children, played by Jaeden Martell (It, Knives Out) and Lia McHugh. To say the children are resentful of Grace is a ludicrous understatement; they’re outright hostile towards her, blaming her for the suicide of their mother – somewhat understandable since her death coincided with her ex-husband’s announcement that he was going to remarry – and passive aggressively refusing to even interact with her. Richard is unexpectedly called back to work for a few days, so he trusts his children in Grace’s care, but when a blizzard confines the three of them to the small cabin, their situation goes from discomforting to horrifying as inexplicable occurrences intensify their paranoia.
From there, The Lodge plummets into abstract psychological horror, where we’re not sure who to trust, or even what’s real and what’s a hallucination. Despite the film teetering on the brink of maddening obscurity, Franz and Fiala’s approach, paired with stark, hypnotic visual compositions from frequent Lanthimos-collaborator Thimios Bakatakis (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer), keeps it consistently engrossing. The sharp, claustrophobic cinematography immerses the audience in the headspace of the characters as the psychological chaos begins to mentally dismantle them.
The most brilliant choice made by the filmmakers was to subtly shift the film’s point of view. At the beginning, we’re placed in the perspective of the children. Their initial skepticism of their father’s soon-to-be wife is intensified when a Google search sheds some light on her disturbing past – as an adolescent, Grace was involved in a cult, eventually becoming the sole surviving member after a ritual mass suicide. The audience is also apprehensive of Grace, but slowly the film begins following her perspective, and we feel her immense anguish and emotional suffocation as her attempts to connect with her fiancé’s family are adamantly rebuffed. Their distrust in one another translates to the audience; the heightened atmosphere of paranoia and dread grows thicker as the plot and character motivations become murkier.
Some audiences will be turned off by the slow-burn narrative and emphasis on instilling and sustaining an ominous atmosphere over relying on cheap scares or gore (this is certainly no Goodnight Mommy in that regard). Others will be frustrated by the disregard for narrative cohesion and logic, but The Lodge isn’t a puzzle meant to be pieced together. The refusal to adhere to the traditional narrative structure or pacing of most modern horror films is refreshing, and the open-ended narrative invites further viewings. Though Goodnight Mommy was scattershot, it displayed an excellent craft from the dynamic filmmaker pair. The Lodge continues to impress, and those willing to meet the film at its level, rather than imposing their own expectations, will find it suitably intriguing and chilling.
B MIFF Review 2020 dogtooth high tension it jaeden martell knives out lia mchugh melbourne international film festival 2019 riley keough severin fiala the grudge the killing of a sacred deer the lobster the lodge the turning thimios bakatakis veronika franz yorgos lanthimos