Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
Some horror films are fast-paced thrill rides that don’t go more than 10 minutes without doing something to make the audience jump in their seats. Some horror films are slower, building tension gradually for a few hours until it explodes with a dramatic climax that is made exponentially scarier thanks to the hour of buildup. Then there are horror films that try to be slow, occasionally throw in a scare to remind the audience that there’s a film going and builds to a climax that answers nothing, justifies no one and makes the people watching sit with their jaws hanging open whispering “What the hell did I just sit through?”. This is that third kind of film.
The Lodge follows a family that’s just been rocked by the violent death of their mother, Laura (Alicia Silverstone), who killed herself shortly after being presented with divorce papers by her husband Richard (Richard Armitage). Richard is a psychiatrist who wants to be able to move on with his life and marry a younger woman, Grace (Riley Keough) who also happens to be one of his patients since she escaped from a cult in her youth. Of course, Richard’s children aren’t happy with this setup. The son, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) in particular is not a fan of Grace and wants to get her to leave his family alone, as does the daughter Mia (Lia McHugh). As part of an attempt to get his new family to get along, Richard takes them all up to a cabin during the winter. Because he’s also going for a Sarcastic Father of the Year award, Richard then leaves his family in the cabin for weeks while he attends work that will keep him away from them until Christmas Day. So, leaving his angry children and his mentally ill fiancé alone in a snowed-in cabin leads to the exact kind of elaborate paranoia one might expect, only without tension or any sense of actual logic. Oh, and that cult that Grace grew up in might be responsible… or at least, we’re meant to think that but they aren’t, that might be interesting.
This film is basically a snooze with very few moments to gain your attention, which is a shame because it actually starts reasonably well. Alicia Silverstone’s cameo and sudden death set a shocking tone that could’ve paid off well but they never match it. The second that the mother character has shot herself in the head is the last time you will be shocked because everything else is a vain attempt to create tone but is really just being as pretentious as it can get away with.
What really hurts is that the ideas introduced actually offer some kind of intrigue, the stuff with the cult could’ve been part of an interesting story about the past coming back to haunt you but it’s really never picked up on until after the shocking twist in the third act (and by “shocking twist” I mean the reveal that several people have been lying to another character and the audience) and even when it is picked up on, nothing interesting is done with it. There is a large section of the film where the three people in the house are convinced they know what’s going on, that they’ve gone through something supernatural and must understand what happened in order to get out… yeah, they do nothing with this either, even though it involves a haunting image of child death that’s played to prove that the supernatural thing happened. Of course, the third act reveal makes you retroactively go back to the scene of fake child death and go “Wait… then how the hell did you do that?” and ruin any tension the film attempted to build up to that point.
It also hurts that, even though they have literally nothing of value to work with, the acting is universally great. I’m now at the point where I’m just constantly surprised by Jaeden Martell because I almost wrote him off after Book of Henry but then he killed it in both It movies, he’s amazing here and I have no doubt he’s probably going to be great in Knives Out when that one finally comes out here. Riley Keough was given nothing to work with and turned out a performance that makes you feel for her because she’s clearly tortured by her past and has to deal with two children who could give less than a damn about anyone other than themselves. If the script had given her something serious to work with I could easily see this being a performance of the year but because she had nothing to work with, she’s straining to pull some depth out of a vacuum of nothing. Even Lia McHugh, whose entire role can be boiled down to “be the cute young girl in a horror movie” still manages to make something happen, she has a lot of sweet moments that make you want things to work out well and shows some serious vulnerability. They are all great actors who deserved a great script to work with… which is the exact thing none of them got.
The Lodge is about as interesting as watching the snow melt. It’s slow, tedious, has little in the way of substance and has replaced the concept of a plot twist without objective lies. Instead of tension building, we just get to look at a long still shot where nothing happens so the audience can imagine something happening that might be interesting, which is fair because while I was watching this movie I was imagining being in a cinema showing a better film. It’s just not that good and it hopes that the admittedly nice visuals and good acting will make up for its shortcomings… which they might have done had the shortcomings not been “It’s not bloody scary”.