Monday, May 03, 2021

The Lodge (2019)

The Lodge is a busy horror picture stuffed with ideas and tropes. The setting (large isolated building in a snowstorm) is self-consciously reminiscent of The Shining. The stepmother figure Grace (Riley Keough, American Honey—did you know she's Elvis Presley's granddaughter?) may or may not be evil but she was once a member of a Christian cult. The kids (Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh) may or may not be evil but their real mother (Alicia Silverstone, gone before you know it) has abandoned them, and Dad (Richard Armitage) is a clueless nebbish. It's Christmas. This family is wounded, fractured, attempting to heal. But the soundtrack alone tells us things do not bode well. The main source of tension is between the stepmother figure and the kids and tell me where you've heard that one before. But The Lodge does have a number of solid small-bore ideas. These kids barely know Grace and they are of an age (tweenish) to be capable of particular cruelty. Dad has left them alone there together because he has to work, planning to be back in a few days for the holiday. The kids coldly rebuff all Grace's overtures but she seems to understand and doesn't press too hard. That is, until the power goes out, everyone's things are missing, and the snowstorm just got worse. I liked the idea of having all their things stolen because it emphasizes how vulnerable they are, especially with the power outage and snowstorm and who is stealing their stuff and why? Even the refrigerator and cupboards are empty (though soup cans and crackers turn up later, no explanation). It bends the story more in supernatural directions, but unfortunately at this point cowriter Sergio Casci and cowriters/codirectors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz more or less lose the thread, turning obvious and predictable (that's what a dog is doing here, for example). Sometimes Grace and the kids move toward being allies, sometimes the kids appear to be playing a terrible joke, sometimes Grace appears to have gone psychotic. These things don't fit very well and I think maybe they should have picked one and worked it out from there. For a while I was enjoying these irrational aspects as the unexplainable is arguably horror's main stock in trade. Then it got to be too much, seesawing between haunted house ghost story and tale of monstrous children. Unfortunately, again, these things don't really fit. But the ideas as such can be good. Perhaps the best was when the kids decided—based on concrete detailed evidence we see for ourselves—that they have all died and are now in purgatory. They make the case for it, however impossible it may seem, but then more twists and turns undermine that and everything else. So the picture is a little disappointing in the end. You could probably make two or three decent shorts from it. Then you wouldn't have to strain to connect them. But who looks at shorts anymore, except maybe at film festivals? Are film festivals coming back?

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