The more we venture into the modern renaissance of horror, marked by films such as Hereditary, The Witch, and Get Out, the more we are presented with films that attempt to be “elevated” horror by relying on much more than a few jump scares. The Lodge, directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, is a definite addition to this category, as shown by it’s more sophisticated themes and dreadful imagery spread throughout the film. However, the story ultimately loses its footing as it tries to build to a wicked climax and the end result is misguided and slightly underwhelming.
In this trauma-filled film, Riley Keough stars as Grace, a woman who grew up in a religious cult lead by her father and suffers from PTSD after being the sole survivor of the cult’s mass suicide. Richard (Richard Armitage) is writing a book on said cult and plans to leave his wife Laura (Alicia Silverstone) for Grace, which ultimately leads the former to commit suicide. Months after this loss, Richard announces to his kids, Aiden and Mia (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh), that Grace is going to be joining them on their trip to their secluded Massachusetts lodge over Christmas. When they finally leave and get settled in the lodge, Richard informs everyone that he has to leave for the city to finish some work, leaving Grace and the kids in the lodge by themselves for a few days. As they’re left to their own devices, unusual occurrences start happening that forces the three of them to decipher if there’s something more sinister at play.
Just by a simple summary, this film has all of the basic ingredients needed to be first great horror release of the decade. Everything from its dollhouse imagery reminiscent of Hereditary and its discussions of themes like fate and trauma would make even the standard moviegoer realize that they’re in for much more than your typical teen scream. Each frame of this horrifically atmospheric film is packed with dread and ensures that the audience is at its mercy every step of the way. With that said, the atmospheric elements and discussion of themes don’t hinder the film by any means. Where The Lodge truly faulters is in its loss of direction with this tension and its depiction of mental illness and suicide. Essentially, this film, with its darkly enriching atmosphere, delivers frequent tension-filled situations that seem promising but end up rarely providing anything of substance overall. The most prominent example of this is an intended jump-scare that occurs when Grace is getting out of the shower and spots Aiden peering into the bathroom. It’s scares like this that end up sustaining the overall unease of the audience, but overall contributing nothing beyond that.
However, these misguided scares don’t necessarily tarnish the film’s reputation, as they still deliver the maliciously dark scares that everyone was expecting. What tarnishes The Lodge is its treatment of suicide and mental illness. As stated earlier, Silverstone’s character Laura is driven to commit suicide after feeling hopeless in the wake of her divorce, and the whole scene displaying it is handled in a completely ignorant manner. What could have easily been an out-of-frame shot of the event is a shot that slowly zooms in on Silverstone as she sips her wine, pulls a gun out of her purse in a nonchalant manner, and pulls the trigger. It’s graphic, raw, and real, and given the context of the film, it’s tactless. While not quite as extreme as other depictions (e.g. 13 Reasons Why), it’s still incredibly triggering and raw for the sake of shock value.
Additionally, Grace’s mental illness also falls victim to the same form of exploitation that Laura’s suicide experienced. In the beginning of the film, we see Grace working through her PTSD in a very real manner, thanks to Keough’s strong performance and incredible emotional restraint. Grace is medicated and trying her hardest to form a genuine connection with Aiden and Mia, which is ultimately faced with resentment from both of them. From that point forward, the audience empathizes with Grace and is rooting for her to survive every one-sided interaction with the kids. However, as the film progresses and the unusual occurrences start happening, Grace’s medication (along with her belongings and food within the house) ends up disappearing, and other traumatic supernatural doings (newspaper clips appearing that claim they’re dead, the voice of her cult leader father echoing through the house, etc) lead her to start spiraling. She inevitably ends up believing that the three of them are stuck in purgatory after Aiden supposedly cannot kill himself, and regresses back to her deeply religious roots. The extreme agony that Grace goes through as her trauma resurfaces leaves her in a catatonic state, and only then do the children admit to her that they orchestrated everything and feel guilty for what they have done. If The Lodge were like any other film that understood mental illness, the focus would have stayed on Grace as she continues to spiral due to the revolting actions of the kids. However, the focus shifts to both of the kids and portrays them as more innocent as they seem, while Grace is painted as villainous and malevolent as a direct result of her mental illness. It shouldn’t matter how much Aiden and Mia repented for their sins, as no amount of guilt should justify Franz and Fiala depicting a manipulated and mentally fragile woman as a villain.
In a time where we frequently receive dark, alluring horror masterpieces almost every year, it’s inevitable that a few strong attempts will fall through the cracks. The Lodge, despite having more going for it than most of the 2020 horror releases, inevitably falls flat in its misguided scares and flawed character portrayal. What could have been a raw and bleak story that dissected heavily religious themes rooted in trauma ends up exploiting said trauma and turning the portrayal of mental illness into the biggest scare of the whole film.