The Lodge


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Lodge
"The Lodge hinges on a powerhouse performance from Keough, who inhabits the troubled Grace so completely that we can stay with her even as her ability to distinguish what's real and what isn't breaks down." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Introducing a new partner to one's children is rarely easy. It's still harder for Richard (Richard Armitage) because the kids blame Grace (Riley Keough) for their mother no longer being around. Wanting to give them the chance to get to know her properly and understand why he wants to marry her, he suggests a few days away at his lodge out in the snowy wilderness, where they can skate together on a frozen lake and celebrate Christmas. He'll still have to go into work but, sulky though Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) may be, he reckons they'll survive a couple of nights with Grace in charge.

Perhaps they should. This is no conventional wicked stepmother tale. Once Richard is out of the picture the kids' efforts to avoid speaking to Grace gradually break down. She tries to please them, preparing food, putting up seasonal decorations and letting them watch The Thing. But then something happens that she could never have anticipated and all of the horrors of her own childhood - growing up in a religious cult whose members killed themselves - come flooding back to the surface. Without the medication that has been helping her to keep herself together, she goes all out to try to keep herself an the children safe from dangers she can barely begin to understand.

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The Lodge has something in common with the recent Daniel isn't Real in that both films reference an extensive history of horror films that sensationalised and exploited mental illness, yet both are interested in the very real horrors that some such illnesses can create for those afflicted by them. In this case, Aidan suspects early on that Grace has problems and this is part of the cause of his hostility towards her. We also see her hide her medication from Richard, and these two things give us a sense of the stigma she has had to live with on top of the trauma itself.

A tighter, more focused tale than directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz's previous high concept work, Goodnight Mommy, the Lodge hinges on a powerhouse performance from Keough, who inhabits the troubled Grace so completely that we can stay with her even as her ability to distinguish what's real and what isn't breaks down. Her bad decisions are clearly not a product of stupidity or lack of effort, and her illness feels very much like a thing imposed upon her by her father, whose words continue to haunt her. McHugh is also very impressive, at times recalling the wonderful Clare Foley in Sinister in her ability to invest a simple character arc with the kind of pain and bitterness that adults forget children are capable of, all without ceasing to seem small and vulnerable, even lovable.

There's a good deal here about the damage that certain approaches to religion can do, but at its core it's a story about how easy it is to condemn others without considering how they might have ended up the way they are. Small actions and apparently trivial choices cause events to spiral out of control. Whilst there is some reliance on genre formula, Fiala and Franz know exactly what they're doing and manage the tension well whilst pointing viewers where they want to go. The Lodge is a standout, a simple story that punches well above its weight.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2020
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A young woman and her reticent new stepchildren find themselves isolated in the family’s remote winter cabin, locked away to dredge up the mysteries of her dark past.

Director: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

Writer: Sergio Casci, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

Starring: Richard Armitage, Riley Keough, Alicia Silverstone, Jaeden Lieberher, Lia McHugh, Katelyn Wells, Lola Reid

Year: 2019

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: UK, US

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