No other genre is as in-tune to trends as horror. Horror is cheaper to make and shorter to turn around, so it makes sense that it’s something that horror filmmakers can apply that sci-fi or action filmmakers cannot. It also helps that, by and large, horror filmmakers tend to be huge fans of horror in general, which blurs the lines between pastiche, homage, conscious replication and unconscious copying. The reasons for a horror movie to resemble a hit horror movie released the previous year may be as simple as wanting to be the first one to throw it some love. All this to say that I can’t pretend to know the production history of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge, but I can say with a certain amount of conviction that it is the first major casualty of Ari Aster’s films Hereditary and Midsommar. Less a rip-off than an unfortunate johnny-come-lately entry in the genre of tortured-family psychological horror, The Lodge would probably not stand up to much scrutiny had the two aforementioned films never been made — but it may have had a head start.
Richard Hall (Richard Armitage) has had a rough year. Not too long after asking his ex-wife (Alicia Silverstone) to finalize their divorce, she commits suicide. This greatly disturbs his teenage son Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and preteen daughter (Lia McHugh), who already had trouble accepting the fact that their father met a new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough), soon after the collapse of the mariage. The kids blame Grace for the tragic turn of events, but it’s only after all this that they discover she is the sole survivor of a ritualistic cult suicide led by her father when she was a child.
They’re therefore somewhat reticent to spend the Christmas holidays alone with her at a lakeside lodge, a bonding experience designed by their father (who already knows he’ll have to go back to the city for work) that almost immediately goes to shit. The foreboding, icy landscapes soon turn into a foreboding, icy standoff between Grace, who’s convinced that the kids are purposely hiding her stuff and keeping her anti-psychotic meds from her, and the kids, who think that Grace is entirely off her rocker and may harm them before she harms herself.
The Lodge is the kind of horror movie where anguished, pained crying features just as prominently as jump scares. The much-maligned buzzword for this is “elevated horror,” though it’s patently unclear what exactly is elevated in The Lodge. For a movie this concerned with the burrowing effects of trauma and this comfortable with showing human suffering, it’s extremely uninterested with humans in general. The characters are thinly sketched and mainly defined by their aforementioned suffering. I’s interesting that the film takes such a distant, unaffected approach that it’s unclear who is even the main character of the piece, but everyone seems to function mainly as conduits for an oppressive Nordic misery than anything else. On one hand, I want to applaud the film’s methodical avoidance of superfluous backstory. On the other, I can’t help but fault it for wasting or outright bungling what little it does put forth.
I’ve said it before but I think it bears repeating: hammering against logic in genre movies is a waste of time at best and an actively harmful nuisance at worst. I don’t watch movies to have them work out the way life works out — but that having been said, The Lodge constantly trips itself up by explaining things that don’t need to be explained. Franz and Fiala’s visual style (it has been compared to Haneke in the past, which I don’t necessarily disagree with) is extremely spare and unadorned, even in its most heightened and would-be trippy moments. As with most psychological horror movies that deal with a fragile psyche, I’d argue it’s entirely useless to establish what is real and what isn’t. The Lodge is designed in a way that lets the audience in on the disintegration of several people’s minds, but it also goes out of its way to shatter its own mystery with entirely superfluous developments that only serve to cloud the point.
I want to be clear here: lapses in logic aren’t exactly what sinks The Lodge. Even before the third act twists and turns, it’s a somewhat derivative (it lifts the entire dollhouse device from Hereditary; that part, at the very least, can’t be accidental) and uneven psychological horror film that obscures what it has to say with clichés and genre-based banalities. This ongoing fascination with the destruction of the familial unit as a basis for horror has resulted in some great films, but it has also created a language that many are happy to replicate without really understanding how to speak it. The Lodge looks and feels right, but in the end, there’s not much to it. ■
The Lodge opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Feb. 28. Watch the trailer below.
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