By: Kayla Caldwell
You know that specific terror of having to walk into a party alone - to feel like a lone wolf in a sea of people who already know each other? Well, if that feeling were a movie, it would be THE LODGE.
From the brilliant directors behind Goodnight Mommy - Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz - THE LODGE follows children Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) as their father, Richard (Richard Armitage), brings them to a remote cabin for the holidays. The hitch here is that they’re not alone. He also brings fianceé Grace (Riley Keough), who, let’s just say, the children are not fond of.
Things only get worse when their dad has to head into work for a few days, leaving the children alone with Grace. You feel for Grace, because you can see how hard she is trying to bond with Aidan and Mia, who are fiercely loyal to their mother.
However, it’s not hard to understand where the kids are coming from, either. This new woman is all a shock to them, and the fact that they have to spend Christmas with her just makes it all the worse.
THE LODGE is mesmerizing and deeply unsettling. It’s not your typical horror - though there are scenes that will make you jump - but more of a slow burn, along the lines of The Witch or, well, Goodnight Mommy. Things slowly unravel as the movie progresses, and I promise you, it will not end at all the way you expect.
* Caution spoilers ahead.
The children loathe Grace from the start, because they blame her for their mother's death. And it's not hard to see how they made that connection. Laura (Alicia Silverstone) kills herself after Richard demands they finalize their divorce so he can marry his younger girlfriend. It's a moment both jarring and devastating, and it primes you to side with the children.
One memorable moment is when young Mia is inconsolable, sobbing in her bedroom, because she's worried her late mother won't get into heaven. This is a great example of why I've decided that my kids - if I choose to have them - will not be raised within any organized religion. Just think about how crippling a responsibility it is, to task a young child with the fate of their parent's eternal soul? Hard pass.
Time and time again Grace is thwarted when trying to connect with the kids. Before Mia and Aidan's father leaves, she works up the courage to join the family outside, where they are skating and playing on the ice. But this only infuriates Mia and Aidan, who notice Grace is wearing their late mother’s red beanie.
When Grace tries to bond with Mia over her beloved dog Grady, the latter seems to be thawing a bit. She offers to show Grace the video the kids have made their father for Christmas. Of course, the video turns out to have quite the focus on Richard’s ex-wife, Laura.
The kids share a fierce bond, protecting each other, and sneaking off to stay away from Grace. Prior to heading to the lodge, Aidan and Mia did a little digging on Grace. Turns out, she is the only surviving member of a suicide cult. In fact, that’s how she and Richard met. He wrote a book about cults, and guess who’s in it?
Weird things start to happen. Grace finds Christmas presents she'd placed in a drawer, stuffed back into her luggage, under the bed. Grace takes down a spooky portrait that reminded her of her religious cult days. She walks back into the room to find the portrait back on the wall.
It only gets worse, when, the next morning, Grace wakes up to find all of her stuff is missing - the gifts she brought for everyone, her medicine, even the fridge was empty! No one seems to know what happened, but one thing is for sure, Grace is not going to do well without her meds.
As someone who takes a low dose of Lexapro to deal with anxiety and depression, I can tell you, it is not good when you go off of your meds. And I’m not the sole survivor of a suicide cult, so, you do the math.
As the film progresses, creepy things continue to happen around the cabin that no one can explain. Grady goes missing. Grace starts to have nightmares. She starts to see things that may or may not be there.
Knowing what we do about Grace, it’s hard to tell if there is some kind of haunting happening, or if she’s simply slowly unraveling. And I think that’s the point. Much like The Turning (which came out in January, and stars another It alum), the big mystery of the movie is - Is any of this happening, or is it all in her head? However, THE LODGE’s execution of this device is much more successful.
Now, compounded with the tension of being stuck in a house with your fiancé’s kids - who seem to hate you - you have the horror of lack of heat and sustenance to survive the holiday. Grace’s phone dies, and she embarks on a hail Mary of a trek to find some way out of this hell she’s been trapped in.
However, her bitter, cold journey - remember, she doesn’t even have a coat at this point - into the snowy terrain leads her right back to the dreaded lodge. It’s a heartbreaking moment when she sees the house and lets out a cry of absolute desperation.
But I will warn you, as rough as that seems, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The drama amps up when the kids begin to question if they are actually in hell. Had they died and this was their purgatory?
One particularly traumatizing scene shows Aidan hanging himself to prove that they were already dead. I'm pretty sure I screamed at the TV. Of course, after it's revealed to be fake - I yelled, "They did a Heathers!" [Click here if you'd like to read how Jaeden Martell prepared for that scene.]
Probably my one gripe with this movie would be the treatment of poor Grady. I know why they did it, and I see how it basically seals everyone's fate, as Grace descends into absolute madness. But I'm just really over dead dogs in horror movies, you guys. I watch a lot of horror movies. I can't be seeing this many dead dogs.
Anyway, the longer Grace goes without her medication, the further she falls into her own hallucination. She pictures herself back with the cult, pulling off the purple shroud - that makes one think of a certain space-y cult, Heaven's Gate - and seeing the word "sins" written on duct tape put over the former member's mouth. She's isolated, and begins to believe that all of that bad that's happened is because God is punishing her, and she needs to repent.
This is yet another time this movie confirmed my decision to abstain from organized religion. No merciful and loving god - as he is so described - would ever want you to kneel on burning embers to prove your love. That's abusive relationships 101. But I promise to get off of my witchy soap box now. Because things are about to get really good. Er, I mean, bad.
The kids reveal themselves to be the culprits. They'd hidden her things all along. They see her dead eyes, and know they've taken it too far. But unfortunately, it's too late. This, of course, is when Richard FINALLY arrives. No one was expecting him, because all of their phones were dead.
At one point, Mia apologizes to an upset Aidan for killing her phone's battery by explaining, "I talked to dad too much." That broke me. Grace was over there thinking they're about to die a The Shining death, and they're chit-chatting with their father?! That is when this movie finally broke me.
Grace has lost all sense of reality, and somehow has access to a gun. Nothing good can come from that. When she shoots Richard, effectively making the children orphans, they know it's over. They need to get out, but I'm sorry to say, that is not where this thrill ride ends.
The film's final shots show Grace taping the children's mouths shut with duct tape covered in the word, "Sins," before panning to a gun. Not many a director would make the choice to kill children. It's a hard storyline to stomach. But as bleak as this ending is, it makes perfect sense. For every reveal of this movie, there is an equal, if not more dramatic, payoff.
It's cinematically beautiful, and as brilliant as it is troubling. In a sea of horror movies, THE LODGE will stick in your head far past your last viewing. I've seen it multiple times at this point, and still, in writing this, I wanted to watch it again. It's the kind of movie where, the more you watch it, the more details you pick up on. It brings me back to being a nerdy, teen horror fan and watching the VHS special features for The Sixth Sense over and over, marveling at how M. Night Shyamalan used the color red to warn the audience a ghost was coming.
A few days after watching THE LODGE, I had this strange hymn stuck in my head. It was bothering me, because it was so familiar, and yet I couldn't place it. I was raised Catholic, so it wasn't necessarily that strange, except I realized it was the hymn Grace sings at the climax of the movie.
THE LODGE is in theaters now. Check it out if you'd like to be haunted, like me.
All photos courtesy of NEON