The Lodge is a 2019 indie horror film that recently made its way to America and is currently on Hulu. It is a psychological horror film that deals heavily with the themes of isolation, gaslighting, mental health, and – this should also serve as a warning for the rest of the piece by the way – suicide. It is a dark, slow-burn piece that really dove in with tone and atmosphere and received a lot of praise for both. I knew little about it going in, other than it was considered a bleak and heavy experience for most people, and I came away with mostly positive feelings.
Again, I want to stress that suicide and mental health are significant parts of this movie, so a bit of a content warning going further.
The movie opens to show us Laura, who has been separated from her husband for an unmentioned amount of time. When he asks her to stop putting off the divorce, she agrees, but then goes home and kills herself. Her children are devastated and blame their father’s new girlfriend, Grace. Grace is notably the only survivor of a religious death cult that performed a mass suicide. Several months after the suicide in an attempt to help build a new family, their father decided to take the children and Grace to a cabin that the family used to spend Christmas at, but he will have to leave them alone.
After the father leaves, Grace’s attempts to bond with the children don’t go well. The older child, Aidan, won’t speak to her and even spies on her while showering. Mia has a few moments where she pretends to be bonding with Grace, only to mention her mother after bringing her in. Grace is already starting to unravel a little with the cold treatment from the children and the religious iconography all over the lodge; after a few days, everything goes from uncomfortable to rapidly falling apart.
Grace wakes to find their things missing, including her medication, and things start unraveling more and more. She is torn between believing that the children are pranking her or that she is actually losing her mind.
Grace’s descent into madness is, for the most part, well done. I think the movie could have actually slowed down and been a bit more of a slow burn. There is a pretty rapid switch from “this is just uncomfortable” to “oh my god we are going to die in this cabin.” It doesn’t mean that the movie is less effective after the switch, it is, it just throws off the pacing a bit. I rarely say that movies should be longer and slower, but this is one that I think could have stretched the descent into madness a little further.
However, apart from that, this movie nails the tone and atmosphere. Being stuck in a cabin in a snowstorm is such a great setting to begin with, and this movie embraces it. It is a cold movie, I watched it in the summer, and I still felt as though I needed a blanket because it nails it so well. It also nails the grayness and overall bleak feeling of that setting. It never feels like you are experiencing real light, but something always tinted by the cold and winter and almost otherworldly. The isolation of their situation also weighs over the whole movie. It is Grace who is falling apart, and two children that hate her and their motivations are unknown, and that is all.
Grace’s breakdown is also well done and hard to watch. She clearly wants to keep the children safe, but as more memories of her old life seep in, she starts to fall into her old habits. Her inner fears and obsession with religion come out more and more, and she can’t seem to come to terms with new post-cult Grace and the Grace she was raised to be. It is unsettling to watch, and a solid look at mental health without feeling too much like it is judging people with these problems. It is a hard line to walk when you use mental health in horror, often people with these issues become more of a trope that spreads negative beliefs about those suffering. This movie leans into that a little. For the most part, I think deals with it well, and it makes Grace less of a punchline and more of a victim.
Riley Keough also nails her performance as Grace. She captures all the different aspects of Grace’s personality and manages to keep the character sympathetic even as she falls further into madness and becomes dangerous.
A lot of the suspense comes less from “what is going to happen next,” and more from “what is happening overall.” There are a few scary moments spread throughout, but largely we have the premise of a slow burn to a final climax. It ends up kind of in the middle as far as nailing that. I got less of a feeling of suspense and more just an oppressive feeling. Laura, the winter, the isolation, the guilt, religion, fear of your own mind, all of these elements are constantly following and weighing down on Grace, and they weigh down on the audience too. It’s a different sort of horror, but horror none the less.
However, for all of the things it does phenomenally, The Lodge suffers a bit with the narrative. As I mentioned, the pacing is off, but more than that, there are moments in the plot that simply… don’t work. Importantly for me was the fact that there were significant issues with believability about them being at the house, to begin with. With horror, I get that there is a certain amount of simply accepting that people are in these situations that we would try harder to avoid. The problem is The Lodge is a well crafted intelligent movie, so the “come on” moments we try to ignore with horror plots I have a harder time accepting.
The father drops his young children off with a woman they barely know and openly hate, utterly alone in a cabin in the mountains, during winter, with no car or other means of escape/contacting him. Really? I hate to harp on this, but it was a massive point of contention for me, especially as there are many simple solutions.
Also, once again, plot points being rushed means that the big reveal in the movie doesn’t land as successfully as it should. I am trying to avoid any significant spoilers, but suffice it to say this movie attempts to tackle the concept of gaslighting and does a good job. But the story needed to be fleshed out just a little more, and I think it would have been more powerful.
I think really the filmmakers were so concerned with the tone and atmosphere that some things just got a little less attention. In the end, though, they executed a solid experience that will stick with the audience, so maybe it was worth it. The plot problems, while noticeable, didn’t make me dislike the experience. The Lodge is still one of the better horror movies I have seen, and something that really did unsettle and disturb me.
So bottom line. I highly recommend to genre fans, except those that don’t like slow burns. I think it was a fascinating experience, and while it had some highs and lows, it’s highs are pretty exceptional. Outside of genre fans, I could actually see some people enjoying this. It departs enough from the things that don’t appeal to people that don’t enjoy the genre but still stays solidly in horror. Be warned it is bleak both in terms of plot and setting. Be prepared when you dive in.