Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s wintery horror The Lodge practically invites overt comparisons to Ari Astor’s Hereditary from its dollhouse-centered imagery all the way through its twisty plot, and it’s almost impossible to talk about this new film without thinking just how outmatched and outclassed the latest film from the Goodnight Mommy directors feels when held next to that 2018 Sundance hit. It’s a movie about Grace (Riley Keough), the daughter of a cult leader whose suicide, (think Heaven’s Gate if they were a bit more like the redneck cult in Far Cry 5) alongside the rest of his church, she was left alone to videotape as a child. She’s recovered somewhat in the intervening decades, and has even struck up a romance with Richard (Richard Armitage), a crime writer whose two children (Lia McHugh and The Book of Henry’s Jaeden Lieberher) are suspicious of her intentions. Grace and the children eventually stay alone together at a lodge that Richard owned once-upon-a-time with his now-dead ex-wife (Alicia Silverstone) over Christmas break as a bonding exercise, and creepy shit begins to happen to them.
You know how it goes: It’s cold and sparse and doubly so emotionally, much like every one of these elevated horror puzzle boxes go, and it’s as dramatically inert and miserable as the dumb dollhouse that Franz and Fiala try to pull so much imagery out of. Whereas Astor, at least, could hold his compositions for long enough that their details burned in to one’s rods and cones, the duo’s camera is always moving, slowly zooming in on any and all action within their frame, which makes a lot of The Lodge feel impatient rather than creepy and, occasionally, it becomes deliriously unpleasant to watch. Again, similarly to Hereditary, the pair confuse LOUD NOISES for pathos in their actors’ direction, but Keough isn’t as strong as as a performer as Collette, which means her character oscillates between numbness and shouting and crying throughout most of the runtime. If you follow the old adage that “best” acting means “most” acting, that Keough will receive plenty of undeserved accolades for her work here (there’s no scene as strong as the seance sequence in Astor’s film, which added an extra layer of fascination to Collette’s performance that would have never made the highlight reels).
Finally, and perhaps the most damning thing about The Lodge, Hereditary and every other “A24or” fright flicks of this vintage, is that their conclusions are never as interesting as the endings that they spend the entire runtime teasing. They always feel like failures of ambition, where these initially perfectly-pitched dream-logic nightmares settle for the broadest and most boring possible explanation for their happenings instead of embracing the chaos of a potentially risky decision, lest they be cited for a “lack of authorial control” by film critics.
As such, The Lodge bored the hell out of me, having neither the bonafides of a controversial horror classic or the fun of a freewheeling genre exercise, though I’m willing to be that those enchanted with the style of this particular subgenre will find plenty to chew on here. I guess I’m just growing sicker and sicker of these “elevated” horror films, which have begun to feel more and more like when Brooklyn chefs attempt to put a “new twist on a southern classic” and then the Internet dunks on Vice for covering the tapas-like results. Sometimes you just want the full plate instead of the aromatics-laden sampler, and The Lodge is the kind of movie that’s fine with you going to bed hungry.
Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus. Featured image courtesy of Sundance Institute.