By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh
Directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz
Written by Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Sergio Casci.
Produced by Hammer Films, FilmNation Entertainment
Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz must really hate children, because TWICE now they’ve created the worst set of kids ever shown on film. To be fair, after watching their latest feature, THE LODGE, I don’t really blame them.
THE LODGE is the latest film from the arthouse horror trend that has been sweeping festivals left and right and earning widespread critical acclaim. From The VVitch to The Lighthouse to the upcoming Saint Maud, films in the arthouse horror trend have enraptured critics and inspired rave reviews (I remember being told that Hereditary was one of a kind, the best thing the critic had seen in years… and to be fair, in that case I wound up agreeing), while also drawing mixed responses from fans of the genre. The slow-burning, character driven pieces aren’t for everyone, especially those that prefer their horror campy and fun; arthouse horror tends to be self-serious, brutally nihilistic, and often times has more of a psychological bent, and that doesn’t resonate with some viewers. Personally, I’ve enjoyed most of the films in the arthouse wheelhouse (can I say that? Is that a thing?), although I have found one or two of them to be a touch derivative and overindulgent (I’ll let y’all guess which one). And now, with the world on pause, the latest arthouse horror phenomenon has arrived on Hulu; the question I’m here to answer is, is it worth a watch?
THE LODGE is, in some ways, very typical of the subgenre; a dysfunctional family takes center stage and the issues they have with one another come back to haunt them, the events take place in an isolated location and have a bit of a psychological bent at times, and the messaging is as nihilistic as Thomas Ligotti’s “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race” (a misanthropic manifesto of self hatred). We start the film hating Grace (Riley Keough’s character), looking at her through the kids’ eyes as this homewrecker responsible for the kids’ misery; and then the film subtly shifts perspective, and we understand that Grace is actually the victim of the narrative. The product of a traumatic past (her dad ran a suicide cult), manipulated and sucked into an inappropriate relationship with her psychiatrist, Grace is simply trying to attain a better life and find some happiness of her own. But as the film goes on, Grace is slowly stripped of everything that separates her from her traumatic past and is dragged back kicking and screaming, losing all sense of self and being reduced to programming. It’s truly heart wrenching, and the last twenty minutes are the film at its most bone chilling as we watch this zombie-like shell of a person barrel towards the inevitable climax.
“THE LODGE is all about how futile it is to try to grow, how easy it is to get dragged back into one’s traumatic past.”
The film is all about how fundamentally fragile we all are, how our attempts to become new people in spite of our trauma are useless because we can be pulled back in with the slightest provocation. THE LODGE is not a fun kind of horrifying so much as a “don’t watch this when you’re depressed” kind of horrifying, and it definitely isn’t for everyone, especially right now. I’ll say that the film is well shot and well written, although I do have a few logistical questions about how the film’s twist could have been pulled off. I can generally sit through slow burn films without any problem, but I did get bored at times for a minute or two before I was sucked back in. Fiala and Franz spend a lot of time working on setting up a misdirect, and it does pay off, but it makes the film feel longer; and those who have seen their last feature might just see it coming. That being said, I wouldn’t classify THE LODGE as overindulgent or too over-long; I would say that generally this film will hold your attention, and that the film’s reveal (which couldn’t be from anyone other than the writers of Goodnight Mommy, make no mistake) and the subsequent climax is more than worth the wait.
Personally, I find the film’s messaging about the traumatic toll religious indoctrination can take and the futility of trying to escape your past both well-crafted and existentially terrifying. But I don’t know if I would call this film entertaining, per se, so much as simultaneously grippingly tragic and fundamentally typical of the emerging arthouse subgenre. While I think this film is more than worth a watch, it isn’t the best of the arthouse crop, feeling at times a little too similar to films that came before. The character arc of Grace is the backbone of this narrative and the reason it’s so impactful; everything else around her feels like a product of the marriage between the arthouse subgenre and Goodnight Mommy, emergent clichés colliding with a plot that feels in conversation with the first film. That isn’t necessarily to this film’s detriment, as it was still gripping and original in its own right, but it was a touch distracting and made certain plot points feel predictable.
I’m giving THE LODGE an 8. Don’t watch this one on your darker days.