She can’t go to Heaven!
It’s almost too perfect. After reading Sergio Casci‘s spec script and wondering who’d be best to steward it towards its next stage, Hammer Films saw Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala as easy marks. Their debut Goodnight Mommy dealt with the psychological strife that occurs when two young children are trapped inside a house with a woman they cannot trust and it does so with ample deflection, half truths, and narrative manipulation. Casci’s The Lodge is so similar that I’m surprised Franz and Fiala chose to go down its rabbit hole after falling through their own just a couple years prior. But there is something to be said about familiarity and the potential to improve upon a theme. A yearlong rewrite helps it prove their success wasn’t a fluke.
This time the kids know for sure that the woman they’re with isn’t their mother. In fact, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) know it to the detriment of the trio’s relationship considering Grace (Riley Keough) is now their father’s (Richard Armitage‘s Richard) fiancé. These siblings reject that prospect because they see Grace as the reason their parents got a divorce (children often blame the stranger rather than the loved one who cheated) and a huge factor in why their mother (Alicia Silverstone‘s Laura) is gone. So tensions inevitably rise once Dad suggests the foursome should spend Christmas at their winter mountain retreat to force the issue of getting to know their soon-to-be stepmom—especially since he’s leaving them alone for a few workdays in-between.
We never see Grace’s face until the morning of their road trip. She’s intentionally shrouded by reflections, foggy glass, and quick departures. It’s an effective visual device for a horror film because you have to wonder about the reasons. Even though I knew Keough was in the film, I honestly found myself bracing for the reveal that Grace was also played by Silverstone to really throw the kids for a loop. That’s obviously not the case, but you can’t deny a similarity as far as the way their mouths move, speech patterns, and general appearance too. It’s as though Richard had found a younger version of his former wife, a truth destined for increased conflict. Grace brings an air of replacement that Aidan and Mia refuse to accept.
We must therefore prepare for the multiple ways in which The Lodge might unfold once the three left housebound by a blizzard wake to find everything gone: clothes, holiday decorations, food, etc. Someone is playing a trick, but which one? We know Aidan and Mia are aware of Grace’s traumatic past as a cult survivor, so it makes sense that she’d accuse them of being the culprits. We also know that Grace has been sleepwalking and losing time every night, her anxiety causing her to consume her medication like candy and perhaps make it so she’s unaware of what she’s doing. But what if it’s the filmmakers playing a trick on us all? Aidan speaks about a vivid nightmare depicting their tragic deaths. What if it was real?
Franz and Fiala make it so we cannot trust anything. Some of it is hallucination. Some is the cruelty of grief. And much occurs with an intentional duality that bleeds possibilities together until discerning one from the other becomes a futile endeavor. We see Mia’s dollhouse (an impeccably scaled version of the their vacation home) as premonition, hear Grace’s deranged father’s voice in prayer, and notice God in everything whether a painting of the Virgin Mary, an ornate crucifix, or a dilapidated shack in the snow that rises up like a cross. Sins are made visible for each of these imprisoned characters to confront and repent. Doing so may be the only means of escape with all roads seeming to lead back to their purgatorial shelter.
There are many twists and turns that ensue, but none arrive without a natural progression already sparked by the plot previously. It’s less about Franz and Fiala leading us down one road to pull the rug from beneath our feet and expose a second than carefully traversing multiple forks in tandem to show how they can all be true simultaneously. Deceit and psychosis can co-exist. Life and death can both be visible. And our dread can mount just as one party seeks to lessen it because actions have consequences regardless of contrition. Once the ball gets rolling down its dark and sinister path, intent is thrown out and replaced by impact. To pick at old wounds is to open a doorway that won’t be easily shut.
Why? Because no one ever truly conquers his/her demons. We merely subdue them with the knowledge that they forever threaten to return. So while it seems The Lodge is Aidan and Mia’s story (Martell is as solid as ever with McHugh stealing scenes with her sorrowful anguish), it’s really about Grace. How will she deal with the guilt projected upon her by these children—a guilt she rightfully doesn’t let affect her until God begins punishing her with his wrath? How will her past influence her present and how much should it have influenced Richard’s decision to leave the three most important people in his life alone without him? Keough delivers a poignant performance that allows a perfectly crafted conclusion to prove as heartbreaking as it is terrifying.
 Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh in THE LODGE. Courtesy of NEON
 Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh in THE LODGE. Courtesy of NEON
 THE LODGE. Courtesy of NEON