Unless there’s a particularly compelling reason behind it, a delayed release for an indie feature (or any movie, really) is almost never a good sign.
Jeff Fowler’s Sonic the Hedgehog had a huge opening weekend, selling $57 million domestically ($111 million internationally) over its first three days of release, already making it one of the biggest video game adaptations to date.
Debuting at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, the occasionally disturbing but largely limp The Lodge finally sees limited release over a year after its premiere. Distributed by Neon, who had an incredible 2019 with releases like Best Picture winner Parasite and stellar documentary Apollo 11 among others, the film resembles stale leftovers a week after a delicious meal. Whether it’s the result of early year house-cleaning or not, there just isn’t enough in this snowbound snoozer to justify braving the elements to head to the theaters.
The story centers around brother and sister Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), who are bereft by the tragic passing of their mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone) as her divorce from their father Richard (Richard Armitage) is being finalized. Despite their mourning, Richard pursues a new relationship with the younger Grace (Riley Keough) and to make matters worse, he brings all three to a remote winter cabin in the hopes that it will bring them closer. It doesn’t take long before he’s called away for work, leaving the already tentative Grace alone with the two soon-to-be stepchildren. An awkward situation turns into something more sinister when the isolation and ill feelings dredge up secrets from Grace’s dark past.
In their English-language debut, Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala reassemble the same elements that made their previous film Goodnight Mommy such a terrifying masterpiece. Once again, we have a mother flanked by two youngsters in a sleek location removed from the rest of the world.
Despite working from the same playbook, The Lodge fails both in telling an equally compelling story and in providing the kind of scares that are necessary for even a “slow-burn” chiller. A bigger issue is one of perspective: Goodnight Mommy is always told from the kids’ point of view, but Franz and Fiala can’t decide this time around if we’re meant to empathize with Grace or with the children.
Despite its indie aspirations, the movie still commits the same boneheaded decisions that you would expect from a more mainstream horror picture. Characters make foolish decisions from the outset — decisions that put them inside the doomed cabin in the first place — and each subsequent poor choice draws them further away from our sympathy. Richard’s stunning level of callousness is never fully investigated, but it’s difficult to feel anything but contempt for a character who strands his grieving children with a new girlfriend with whom they’re barely acquainted. Without revealing too much about the full narrative, it’s enough to say that neither Grace nor Aidan and Mia are completely virtuous in their actions as well.
Even if the story isn’t as engaging as it should be, the film always has a handsome aesthetic thanks to some top-tier production design and terrific camerawork. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, who brought a similarly chilly approach to The Killing of a Sacred Deer, shoots the claustrophobic hallways of the rustic lodge with haunting stillness and Kubrickian remove. I also appreciate how Franz and Fiala foreshadow Grace’s presence by obscuring her figure behind frosted panes and icy car windows until finally revealing her fully around the 30-minute mark.
The table is all set for a solid horror hit, but The Lodge only manages to serve up a mish-mash of tropes that we’ve been served plenty of times before.
Coming to theaters this weekend
The Call of the Wild, starring Harrison Ford and Dan Stevens, updates the classic Jack London novel about a grizzled explorer and a resilient dog who team up to find his way home.
Brahms: The Boy II, starring Katie Holmes and Ralph Ineson, follows the titular eerily life-like doll as he stalks a new family who moves into his mansion.
The Photograph, starring Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield, is a romantic drama about a relationship between the estranged daughter of a famous photographer and the journalist assigned to cover her late mother.