We often talk about the mothers in horror movies and all the bad decisions they make, e.g., not ushering the kids and the dog out the door at the first sign their new fixer-upper home in the remote woods is haunted as hell, or navigating creaky steps to explore the mysterious sounds coming from the cellar and/or the attic when the logical move would be to RUN THE OTHER WAY.
Fine, but what about horror movie dads? They’re the worst! So many times, they’ve either rudely died before the film even starts, or they’re so consumed with work or the new trophy wife, they’re completely useless.
Or they’re Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”
Richard Armitage’s Richard is the dad in the stylish and haunting and unnerving “The Lodge,” and he’s such a clueless, tone-deaf lout, this Richard wanted to reach right into the movie and shake some sense into that Richard.
But I suppose we should thank Richard, because his terrible decisions and horrible sense of timing set the table for this increasingly chilling gem from directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (“Goodnight Mommy”).
Without Richard’s stupidity, we wouldn’t get such a smart movie.
Richard is an investigative journalist who writes a book about a radical separatist religious cult, whose leader and 38 of his followers committed mass suicide. The only survivor was the cult leader’s then 12-year-old daughter, Grace, who videotaped the horrific aftermath, and is (understandably) still dealing with PTSD many years later.
Being an idiot, Richard falls in love with Grace (Riley Keough), who is now a young woman. He tells his estranged wife Laura (Alicia Silverstone) he wants to finalize their divorce so he can marry Grace.
Cut to six months later. Richard’s children — teenager Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and preschooler Mia (Lia McHugh) — have steadfastly resisted their father’s efforts to get them to spend time with Grace, but now they don’t have a choice. The four of them are headed to a remote and spacious family lodge tucked away deep in the snowy mountains to spend the holidays together, and that’s that.
“The Lodge” is filled with beautifully executed shots, as when Grace is first seen as a blurry figure viewed by the children through a frost-covered car window, like some ominous entity. (Later, the POV is reversed, and Grace is the one trying to figure out what’s going on behind frosty glass, and I’ll say no more about that scenario.)
Even before we get to the hideaway, there are strong signs this is going to be a disastrous outing. Little Mia has a weird obsession with a doll that looks like her mom. Grace’s prescription bottles are practically jumping out of her bag. Aiden is surgically attached to his headphones and his snarl. Richard is … oblivious.
After an ice-skating adventure gone spectacularly wrong, Richard has to head back for a few days, to do some work. He commandeers the only vehicle, leaving his fiancée and his two children to fend for themselves as the snow drifts pile up outside the lodge.
RICHARD! You’re a book author guy. What kind of work would demand your presence on Christmas, just as you’ve finally arranged for your cult-daughter fiancée and your deeply resentful children to spend some quality time together?
Oh well. Good riddance. Once Richard is out of the picture, “The Lodge” kicks into another gear.
Grace is plagued by nightmares and flashbacks, and at times she seems unhinged and dangerous, but in her moments of lucidity, she comes across as warm and sincere as she attempts to connect with Richard’s kids by offering to make Aiden a sandwich or encouraging Mia to bond with her dog.
As for Aiden and Mia: The sibling bond between these innocents has given them the strength to get through some unimaginably rough times, and now they might be facing the most challenging obstacle yet — or are they in reality a pair of little monsters, manipulating events and seriously effing with the vulnerable Grace to their own end?
Directors Franz and Fiala (along with their scriptwriting partner Sergio Casci) drop in a tribute to John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and appear to be fans of the aforementioned “The Shining” and “The Others,” among other horror classics, judging by certain plot elements and visual references. (The dollhouse diorama stuff has parallels to “Hereditary,” but “The Lodge” was actually in production prior to the 2018 release of that supernatural horror classic.) This is a scary movie that loves other scary movies.
Riley Keough’s performance as Grace is everything to this film. For much of the story arc, we’re not sure if Grace is the devil, or an angel, or something in between.
Keough’s work is so strong, so effective, that by the time we learn the ultimate fate of Grace, we would have bought into any of the possible options.