Lodge, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 12/19/19 15:14:30
SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It may seem like a narrow niche to explore, but filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz could probably make a few more movies about a couple of kids and their guardian circling each other warily but with increasing paranoia before it starts to become repetitive. After all, while "The Lodge" superficially has a lot of similarities to "Goodnight Mommy", it's dealing with different sorts of trauma, albeit in a way that is no less nastily compelling.As it begins, a family is falling apart, with mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone) crumbling even faster. It's no surprise, then, that when we rejoin children Aidan (Jaeden Lieberher) and Mia (Lia McHugh) a few months later, they're spending Christmas at the vacation home on a frozen lake with their father Richard (Richard Armitage) and his new fiancée Grace (Riley Keough). It's a kind of questionable relationship; not only is she younger, but they met because she was the sole survivor of a cult Richard had been studying. He's called away for an emergency just before a snowstorm isolates the lodge, and when they wake up the next morning, things are even worse: The power's out, their phones are dead, and the entire contents of the house have vanished - food, warm clothes, and the eyebrow-raising variety of pills Grace takes for various mental health issues.
The actual opening shot of the film involves a creepy little dollhouse that will naturally figure into the film later, which is a bit of a signal. Dollhouses are imperfect replicas of the real world, simplified and seldom under the control of those inside in any meaningful way. As the parts of the lodge that actually function vanish, it becomes more of a dollhouse itself, a sort of purgatory that the characters are certain they don't deserve, one that eventually includes figures that could themselves be dolls, for their inanimate nature and hint that they have been placed by an unseen hand.
Talking too much about the symbols and how the film is constructed threatens to give the game away, though, and the filmmakers are too careful about leaving multiple possibilities open and making any new piece of information the characters (and through them, the audience) discovers precious. One of the more impressive tricks they pull is never letting the mystery and the various puzzle pieces dominate or feel neglected, because they're good at convincing the viewer that hunger and the cold are threats that are just the right combination of immediate and survivable in the short term to occupy the moment while still leaving just enough attention to think a bit about the bigger picture. Everybody moves like they're shivering and the white outside always seems to blot away the rest of the world even as there's just enough visible on the far horizon to make an attempted escape feel tantalizingly impossible.
It's a tight situation that only makes the divide between Grace and Richard's children more stark, and it's impressive just how much hostility the kids can carry throughout the entire film without becoming too abrasive for the audience to stand. Jaeden Lieberher shows just enough hurt as Aidan - and the kind of harsh certainty someone on the edge of their teenage years can possess - to make his disdain for Grace seem specific and like the sort of thing he may regret later, if they survive. You can see it influencing Mia with Lia McHugh capturing how she might, under better circumstances, be a sweet kid, but the influences of the situation and her trusted older brother are too much. Riley Keough, meanwhile, does a terrific job of capturing someone who, despite the issues she has, is kind of cursed to know her own mind too well and recognize that the common ground her own shattered youth gives her is not actually helpful in this situation. The brief glimpses of Richard Armitage as the father tell a familiar story of a man who tends to see "family" as a wife's job, while Alicia Silverstone gives a small but devastating performance that most viewers won't have seen coming from her most famous roles.
I makes them all a bunch of broken pieces that don't yet fit together, but that disconnection is, perversely, what makes The Lodge such a cohesive, connected piece. A person's family being broken apart doesn't obviously feel like being snowed in, but it's a sort of limbo, an emotional place that leaves one disconnected and lacking some of what is needed to survive and thrive as a person. Getting out doesn't just happen, but requires everyone to decide to help each other, and the horror and suspense of a film like this is that it may happen too late to make any difference.The combination of impressive horror movie craft and that sort of near-universal underlying theme makes "The Lodge" an impressive little thriller, and reaffirms that Franz & Fiala have deft enough hands to make interesting work out of what may seem like reused material.
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