We are 9 days in to our Awful Advent 25 Days of Christmas Horror feature. Today we are taking a look at something a little slower. Something a little more depressing. Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s Psychological horror The Lodge from 2019. This is a slow burning horror movie that plays on themes of mental illness, grief, and cults. I am a huge fan of slow burn horror so, naturally, I was excited for this.
Following the story of some recently bereaved children. Still not recovered from their grief. Spending time alone with their new step mum. The Lodge is something of a Saint Maud for the Christmas season. Featuring a solid performance from its lead character. This is not a movie for those who want to have fun. It is depressing and very lacking in the festive spirit. Still, it is set at Christmas so it definitely counts. So let’s get into it. I am going to skip the usual style of synopsis and break the movie down quickly.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.
The Lodge follows the story of children Mia and Aiden. Their parents have recently split up and are living apart. Finding out that their dad, Richard, is planning on remarrying. Their mum Laura is distraught at the thought of finalising the divorce. Not knowing how she will go on, she commits suicide. The children are devastated and the religious Mia believes her mother will not be able to go to heaven.
In a somewhat questionable move. Only a few months later Richard tells the children he is remarrying. Believing that their dad’s new girlfriend, Grace, is responsible for their mum’s death. The children are hugely upset. Aiming for a knockout combo of poor decisions. Richard tells them they will be spending Christmas in their mountain lodge. Only this time, they will be accompanied by said new girlfriend. Not only that, but he will be working in the city for a few days. The kids will have to stay with Grace alone. Yes, that is correct. The kids will have to stay with this person they have just met… A person they don’t like… Alone… In the mountains.. Pretty much snowed in and cut off from the nearest town.
Oh and the proverbial cherry on the top of this pudding of unbelievable decisions. Is the fact that Grace was the only surviving member of a cult. A cult that Richard was studying for a book. She is heavily traumatised and somewhat mentally unstable. Naturally, this all makes a lot of sense and isn’t going to end badly for anyone involved… Nice one Richard!
Now before I get into this review. I have to lay into this plot a little bit. I get it, enjoyment of horror movies comes with a bit of a caveat. You absolutely have to be able suspend disbelief. Horror is not just a genre for me, it is THE genre. I literally don’t watch anything else. That’s why I started a horror movie review site. I understand that you can’t pick these movies apart too much. Plot holes are almost part and parcel. The thing with The Lodge, however, is that it presents itself as realistic.
It isn’t trying to be a supernatural movie. This isn’t a movie that is full of monsters. It is supposed to be set in the real world and contain feasible events. With this in mind, I have to review it from that perspective. The sheer fact that I am supposed to buy in to the setup of this movie is ridiculous. Who would leave their children alone with a person the kids have never met before? Sure, a trained professional that is well vetted, maybe. But your relatively new girlfriend who is much younger. A girlfriend with no experience with children. Someone who was involved with a cult that all committed suicide. A person who is likely heavily traumatised. And on top of all of that, a person who the kids absolute hate.
The set up is completely unbelievable and undermines the entire film. The children express not just dislike for Grace but actual hate. It’s only been 7 months. The kid’s mother killed herself due to their dad’s new relationship. Naturally, this isn’t Grace’s fault but kids are impulsive. They will place blame where it doesn’t belong.
The dad would have to be blind to not recognise the pain the kids are in. He is never presented as uncaring. Despite this, he would have to be to put all of them through this. New partners have to be introduced slowly where kids are involved. Short meetings in spaces the children feel comfortable in. This entire setup is farcical and completely ridiculous.
Anyway, moving on with the actual movie. The Lodge is incredibly slow burning. To be honest, it doesn’t feel much like a horror movie at all. It is far closer to a thriller in my opinion. Without giving too much away, there are horror elements here and there. For the majority of the movie, however, you are going to be watching an unfolding mystery. It feels, in parts, supernatural and, at other times, grounded in reality. As the end approaches it all becomes clear and the truth is revealed.
The children here are still traumatised by their mother’s death. They have a good relationship with their dad but he is obviously making bad choices. The drama element plays a big part in setting up the story. Grief is something that is frequently found as a theme in horror. The Lodge is no different. The way it plays out here is in the form of a pair of disturbed kids. Unfairly thrust into an awkward situation. They have barely recovered and are not at all ready to move on.
There are some effective scenes here focusing on the children’s grief. Mia, in particular, is completely distraught and appears to be coping poorly. The kids have been raised with a religious influence. This leads to Mia feeling a lack of closure with her mother’s death. It just so happens that their dad’s new girlfriend also has a history with religion. While Grace has distanced herself from it, the kids have moved closer to it. The contrast of comfort and carnage caused by these themes is quite interesting. Indeed, it provides much of the back bone of the story and plays heavily into the ending.
Needless to say this is a movie that wants to get into your head. There is an unsettling feeling of not quite knowing what is going on. Grace is a complicated character with a troubled past. Formerly a member of a cult, she is clearly suffering significant trauma. She takes medication, seemingly, to control symptoms associated with her PTSD. Years of religious conditioning in the cult have stayed with her. She bears physical and mental scars to show what she has been through.
Grace is not fully healed from what she has experienced. This becomes very apparent as the movie moves on. It plays heavily into the events that take place and keeps the viewer guessing. We are forced to question what she is seeing and the things she experiences. Is she suffering from psychosis? Does she have a more significant mental illness than it initially appears?
Despite her problems, Grace tries extremely hard with the children. She wants to spend time with them and wants them to like her. Grace has a bunch of exciting things planned for when their dad is away. She has movies lined up, presents, she wants to decorate the tree and eat pizza. The kids, on the other hand, want absolutely nothing to do with her. They research her history on the internet before meeting her. The pair learn about the religious fanatical cult she was a part of. They realise she likely has mental health issues as a result and consider her to be a “psycho”. This plays heavily into what is to come later in the movie.
There are a mountain of plot holes in this movie. As mentioned above, the set up itself is completely unbelievable. As the film goes on, more and more is piled on. It is one unlikely event after another. The fact that we have to immediately suspend disbelief in such a major way is bad enough. As one unbelievable thing after another happens. It begins to get pretty old.
Naturally I can’t go into it too much as I will spoil the movie. Suffice to say, you will be asking yourself how character A managed to do this. Why did character B do that? Would character C really react like that? And it suddenly makes less and less sense.
As is quite common with movies like this. Users who reviewed it have attacked people who dislike it. They claim that people demand too much and should be able to suspend disbelief. Is that a fair comment when the entire set up makes no sense? The Lodge is a cascade of unbelievable events. It does, however, heavily appeal to the fart sniffing crowd. It is one of those movies that wants to make you feel smart.
There is something of a plot twist and it is an extremely obvious one. You can see it coming a mile off. Offering the viewer ass pass for their ability to engage in basic deduction. The movie then attempts to double bluff you. The only thing is, said double bluff is equally as obvious. The influence of similar recent slow burn horror is very apparent here. The desire to pull the rug out from underneath the viewer is clear. Which brings me onto my next point.
There is a real attempt here to channel what made Ari Aster so successful. From the plot twists to the camera work. This feels like Aster lite. The heavy use of scenes focused purely on characters crying will have you feeling a sense of Deja vu. A doll house used to reflect what is happening is less a tribute and more blatant robbery. Scenes designed to shock the viewer with sudden, unexpected events are extremely familiar. Hereditary wants its tropes back.
There are elements of Franz and Fiala’s earlier hit Goodnight Mommy here. Indeed, the theme itself is similar and the focus on young children takes front seat once again. The liberal sprinkling of Ari Aster styling is unmistakeable, however. It makes this feel less like an impressive piece of work and more of a tribute.
Scripting in The Lodge suffers from being somewhat basic and unnatural. Camera work is not fantastic and feels low budget at times. The location, however, is great. The house is suitably huge. It is full of visuals touches to indicate Grace’s declining mental state. The snow covered landscape is perfect for the festive season. On top of that it is also hugely imposing. Ice covered ponds lead to some great scenes. Towards the later part of the film, the cold becomes something of an antagonist for Grace.
With all of this being said. The Lodge isn’t a bad movie. I know I have bagged on it a lot. There are just too many things for me to overlook to seriously recommend it. It is, however, a fascinating story for much of its length. It keeps you hooked up until some of the more obvious plot points become apparent. The dynamic between Grace and the children is completely engaging. The fact that she is trying her best has you rooting for her.
Acting is fantastic. Riley Keough, as Grace, puts on a magnificent performance. Completely convincing as a person suffering from mental illness. It was extremely reminiscent of Moryfdd Clark’s portrayal of Maud in Saint Maud. A movie that The Lodge feels somewhat similar to. Both of the kids, played by Jaeden Martell from It and Lia McHugh, are brilliant. Lia is wonderful whenever she has to display emotion. Richard Armitage’s American Accent is awful but he is generally fine as the kid’s dad. It’s an excellent cast. They are all completely convincing.
Scares are minimal. The general unsettling feeling throughout is more than enough to put you on edge, however. This is just an interesting Christmas horror movie that rises, at least somewhat, above its lack of scares. The ending is absolutely shocking, as well. It leaves a question mark that will have you begging to know more. If The Lodge had a better laid out story with a little more plausibility. I feel it could have been exceptional. It frustrates me that the potential is not realised. As a movie, it is entirely watchable and, at times, very impressive. I just find the plot holes and poor set up impossible to ignore.
The Lodge is a dark, brooding, psychological horror movie about a pair of kids that have recently lost their mother to suicide. Forced to spend a weekend alone with their new step mum, the kids are unhappy. Relationships fray until things begin to go drastically wrong. Slow burning and not what you would call traditional horror. This is a story that wants to get into your head and unsettle you.
A very shaky premise and lots of plot holes make the film difficult to buy into. Lacklustre camera work and a poor script mar what is otherwise a decent movie. Still pretty compelling, acting is excellent throughout. Not a movie for people who enjoy fast paced horror. The Lodge is fairly tense and deserving of a watch. I can't help but think that a tighter script and a more plausible premise would have made this exceptional.