In an era of very long and meandering feature films, The Lodge could be described as savagely efficient. It wastes no time establishing its dark, relentless tone, opening with a direct hit — a shocking act of violence performed by Laura (Alicia Silverstone), the mother of two young children, who learns that her ex-husband is getting remarried.
Their children, Aidan (Jaeden Lieberher, Knives Out) and Mia (Lia McHugh, Paramount Network’s “American Woman”), blame their soon-to-be-stepmother, Grace (Riley Keough, Logan Lucky), for what’s happened. Several months later, the hodgepodge family — sans Laura — heads to a remote cabin to spend the Christmas holiday. It’s already been decided that Grace will spend a few days alone getting to know the kids better while their father, Richard (Richard Armitage, The Hobbit), goes back to the city for work – a convenient but perfect setup for the further disintegration we already know is coming.
This is a horror film, and it’s directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, the same team behind the brutal Goodnight Mommy (2014), another excellent movie about a family’s terrible unraveling. If you know these two details, you might think you won’t be surprised by The Lodge, which shifts from desperation to full-on despair (with a side trip through possible insanity) over its run time — but I guarantee you’ll be wrong. This is a frightening, disturbing movie that I’m still thinking about days after seeing it, and it’s doubly refreshing after a dud-filled January.
The family units are the first places where things go awry. Soon after their mother’s incident, the grieving kids discover that Grace is the only surviving member of a Christian doomsday cult — and was chosen by its leader (her own father, played to great, creepy effect by the actress’s actual father, Danny Keough) to carry its message to the world after the other members have all died. Sidenote: They learn this by snooping in their dad’s files because he’s a psychiatrist and Grace was his patient — an ethical violation on which the film does not overtly comment. And while Grace seems to be trying hard to bridge the seemingly infinite gulf between herself and the children, we’re not altogether sure whether to trust her.
Despite his growing unease (and our disbelief), Richard leaves the trio at the cabin just as a blizzard begins, driving six hours away for work that he somehow can’t reschedule. The landscape and the house within it seem to swallow the characters as they wait for his return. Although vehicle license plates in the film read Massachusetts, the cabin seems to exist somewhere in the Great Plains. It’s a limbo space — icy, mostly featureless, removed from everywhere and miles from any possible help. Inside, the house is dark and stifling. The walls are lined with wood paneling that enhances their suffocating effect and hung with pious Laura’s mournful religious iconography, which startles Grace.
The next morning, the family wakes up and discovers all of their stuff is gone, including the food and Grace’s medicine. The power goes out. The generator fails. Grace’s dog vanishes. A voice starts speaking in the night. The only other house for miles is both abandoned and, somehow, deeply sinister. And the snow keeps falling.
The Lodge’s few flaws are mostly plot-related and distracting, but they’re forgivable. It also takes some cues from other recent landmark horror films, most notably Ari Aster’s Hereditary, as well as older classics, like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and from true events like the 1997 Heaven’s Gate mass suicide. But despite its numerous influences, the film concocts a formula all its own, and the devastating end result will linger with you long after the credits roll.