Since its resurrection in the late 2000s, Hammer Films has quietly re-established itself in the horror genre. Though Blumhouse Productions has eclipsed the British studio in quantity and, arguably, overall quality, Hammer has a delivered a few memorable projects. Most notably, Let Me In and The Woman in Black were hallmarks of the studio’s atmospheric approach to horror. The studio’s latest release, The Lodge, saw a brief, limited theatrical release despite a mostly positive critical response. No spoilers are in the review below. But for those interested in what actually happens in the movie, spoilers follow the review at the bottom.
Shortly following their separation, Richard asks his estranged wife, Laura, for a divorce. He plans to marry his younger girlfriend, Grace. Distraught over the request, Laura commits suicide. Months later, Richard takes his two children and his now fiancée Grace to the family lodge for Christmas holidays. Despite the hostility between the kids and their soon-to-be stepmother, Richard hopes the trip will allow them to bond. But Richard is called back to work for a few days leaving Grace alone with his kids. Now isolated in the lodge, tensions between Grace and her stepchildren grow as a terrible secret from her past threatens her sanity.
The Lodge is Quietly Unsettling Slow-Burn Horror
Previously, directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala helmed the eerie Goodnight Mommy. Much of that movie’s DNA – both in terms of atmosphere and story-telling – finds its way into The Lodge. This is a methodical, slow-moving movie that requires patience before its unsettling finale. In particular, Franz and Fiala opt for haunting visuals, long stretches of silence, and discomfiting dreams to sustain the movie’s atmosphere. The few moments of violence are sudden and abrupt, prompting genuine shock. It’s the juxtaposition of the movie’s quiet tone and few disruptions to the silence that leaves you on edge.
The few moments of violence are sudden and abrupt …
Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis’ (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) filming of the bleak winter landscape is stunning – it captures the sense of isolation found in movies like The Thing and The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Franz and Fiala even include a direct reference to Carpenter’s classic sci-fi horror. Even as The Lodge propels itself to its bleak conclusion, Franz and Fiala show remarkable restraint. When youngest sibling Mia has to venture downstairs to use the washroom – Grace’s whereabouts unknown – the suspense is drawn out in the absence of typical horror tropes. Bakatakis uses lighting and shows, along with the movie’s unbearable quiet, to elicit audience discomfort.
The Lodge Houses a Bleak Story with a Tragic Turn From Riley Keough
Like Goodnight Mommy, not everything is as it seems in The Lodge. Franz and Fiala, who re-wrote some of Sergio Casci’s original screenplay, play a lot with foreshadowing. Intermittent edits to Mia’s toy dollhouse eventually plays two roles in the movie’s narrative. The movie has a dreamlike quality to its narrative, leaving much in doubt about what is really happening. Early story reveals of Grace’s tragic upbringing in her father’s religious death cult are later contrasted with references to her “medication” and the abundance of Catholic symbols in the family lodge. Some viewers may take issue the twist, which almost feels conventional, recalling lesser horror movies. But Franz and Fiala’s execution is much more subtle. Moreover, The Lodge is thematically richer with its references to the power of belief.
The movie has a dreamlike quality to its narrative, leaving much in doubt about what is really happening.
At the heart of the movie, Riley Keough’s (Mad Max: Fury Road, Hold the Dark) captivating performance perfectly complements the atmosphere. Her emotional unravelling drives the movie’s suspense much in the same way as Catherine Deneuve’s work in Repulsion. Simply put, The Lodge doesn’t work nearly as well without Keough, who deserves mention alongside other recent strong female performances in horror. Not much is expected of Richard Armitage who factors less into The Lodge’s main arc. Both child actors – Jaeden Martell (It, It Chapter Two) and Lia McHugh – make memorable impressions. McHugh stands out courtesy of a performance that seems well beyond her years. And Alicia Silverstone’s (The Crush) small role is a reminder of her talent.
The Lodge is an Early Candidate for “Best Of” in 2020
In spite of the truncated nature of 2020 so far, The Lodge is (and would be) a strong candidate for one of the year’s best horror movies. The quietly unsettling atmosphere, haunting and often dreamlike visuals, and strong performances set it apart. Similar to their previous effort, Goodnight Mommy, The Lodge places directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala on the same trajectory as another “elevated horror” filmmaker, Ari Aster. Though it requires patience, The Lodge and its open ending will gnaw at viewers long after the credits roll.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A
Everything begins to get strange after Aidan offers Grace a hot chocolate and brings out the gas heater. When Grace wakes up the next morning, everything from the lodge – their coats, food, and Grace’s medication – is missing. Aidan tells Grace about a dream he had where they forgot to turn off the gas heater and died from suffocation. He believes they are in purgatory. From this point onward, Grace begins hearing her father’s voice calling her to “repent”. She increasingly struggles to distinguish dreams from reality. Later she finds an obituary for the children and herself. When Aidan hangs himself – and doesn’t die – to prove they’re already dead, Grace becomes more unhinged.
The twist – Aidan and his younger sister, Mia, have orchestrated all the strange happenings as revenge against Grace for their mother’s suicide. They’ve hidden all the food and belongings, shut off the power and water, and even gone so far as to pipe Grace’s father’s voice through speakers (it makes sense in the movie). But they’ve pushed Grace too far. As a child, Grace was the sole survivor of the mass suicide of her father’s religious cult. After fighting her father’s warped beliefs for years, Grace has finally given in to them. When Richard arrives at the lodge, Grace – who now believes they are in purgatory – shoots and kills Richard. In the movie’s last scene, Grace has seated the children at the dinner table with their dead father as she sings a religious hymn. The final shot is of the loaded gun, implying that Grace kills the children as well.