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'The Lodge': A Work of Ultra Minimalist Horror

January 31, 2020
3 min read time

The dead of winter has a way of creating gloom, anxiety and profound isolation; in other words, exactly the atmosphere of contained horror feature The Lodge (2019).

With touches of a Scandinavian period piece — it’s full of seclusion in the wintertime — you could say the film is Ingmar Bergman-esque; and if you’ve seen The Juniper Tree (1990), the pacing and direction is similar to that.

If you want to experience it at its full suspense — The Lodge hits theaters in February, more than one year after its premiere at Sundance — save this read for after you watch it (tons of spoilers ahead).

The Lodge is co-written by Austrian filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, along with UK writer Sergio Casci. The film co-directed by Franz and Fiala can be summarized as a story about one woman and two children in a house surrounded by copious amounts of snow; a work of ultra-minimalist horror.

Riley Keough leads The Lodge as Grace, the girlfriend of Richard (played by Richard Armitage) alongside Richard’s children Aidan (Jaeden Martell, credited in the film as Jaeden Lieberher) and Mia (Lia McHugh).

Alicia Silverstone also plays an important and haunting role in the film. In Act One, Silverstone’s character, Laura, is nervous about leaving the preteen kids she shares with Richard with him and Grace; Richard tells Laura he is marrying Grace and that he and Laura should finalize their divorce.

Laura goes home and blows her head off with a gun. This has you thinking she might come back in the film, with jump scares like doors opening and Grace's dog, Grady, sensing supernatural activity over and over again.

The fact is, Laura doesn't come back; this film is more about intercut scenes of an oversized dollhouse where the characters are rearranged and whatever happens in the dollhouse happens in real life.

Still, Laura’s suicide is a catalyst for the movie’s religious themes, which up the creepy factor.

Mia, for example, is convinced her mom can’t go to heaven because she took her own life; the girl carries a doll replica of her mother everywhere. She says grace before meals, too. Eventually, Aidan and Mia figure out that Grace is the only surviving member of a death cult that was led by her strict religious father.

Before they make that realization, Richard picks them up along with Grace and Grady and takes “the new family unit” to the lodge. The filmmakers take us down desolate stretches of rural road to arrive at our Act Two destination; an imposing house that is passed down through Richard's family.

Now, for the fun and games of Act Two.

Aidan and Mia make it clear to Grace that she will never be their mother; Mia snatches a toboggan from Grace and reclaims it for Laura. Aidan refuses to talk with Grace, despite her attempts to reach out.

Richard goes back to the city for some sort of work, although his exact reason for driving “five or six hours” away from the lodge is not entirely clear. Before he leaves, the writers set up some of the story’s key elements; Richard shows Grace a gun he has in a safe at the lodge and we see that Grace takes medication, though we are not shown what kind.

Shortly after this, Grace gets up to find that all of her things are missing. She becomes irate, going to the children’s room to search for them and she finds that their stuff is gone, too. All the food in the refrigerator has vanished and most importantly, Grace’s pills are gone.

There is no heat, power or water. Here, the filmmakers want you to wonder if what they’re showing is reality or Grace’s delusions.

All the while, the kids play tricks on Grace. After watching her shower, Aidan writes, “mom” on the steamy bathroom mirror. There is a framed photo of Aidan and Mia that says, “in loving memory” and we see an obituary for the children. They are trying to convince Grace they all died and are in limbo. On top of this, Grace’s dog disappears.

Grace is now determined to walk miles to the next town in a blizzard to get more pills and find help. She does not succeed and finds herself right back at the lodge, where Grady is frozen. Mia takes credit for leaving the door open, resulting in the dog getting out and freezing to death.

Upon her return, Grace is haunted by Laura's old religious iconography in the house, including a huge wooden cross and what seems like a painting of the Virgin Mary with a golden halo. Then there's a large grandfather clock that changes the day and month; this is not really explained or connected to the larger picture. Tension heats up and the mysterious abounds as cabin fever reaches fever pitch.

In Act Three, the final showdown, Richard returns from the city. In what appears to be an homage to The Shining, big things happen that will shatter all of the characters' lives. Still no Laura, but the gun makes another appearance. Let's leave it here. You'll have to watch for yourself to find out what happens next.

The Lodge is out in theaters on Feb. 7.

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