Odd, offhanded things people say can stick in your head forever, and there’s no real accounting for why.
Years ago, while we were both working at a community newspaper in Seattle, my dear friend and mentor Richard Jameson handed me a screener for The Descent, a horror film he’d just watched the night before. I peppered him with a series of excited questions about the movie, to which he was slyly evasive.
Growing more and more frustrated, I finally asked him if the film’s horror was supernatural in nature.
He paused thoughtfully and then smiled. “Not supernatural, exactly,” he said. “Just deeply fucked up.”
Boom — from that moment forward, the phrase “deeply fucked up” entered my vocabulary, in part because it proved to be the perfect description of The Descent, a remorselessly bleak, no-exit plunge into the heart of human darkness, literally and figuratively. The more irrefutably hopeless a horror film becomes — the more deeply fucked up — the more exhilarated I get. I’m weird that way. Whether comedy or tragedy, I like being pushed over the edge.
The Lodge definitely pushed me over the edge. The latest movie by directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (Goodnight Mommy) is, to borrow the phrase, deeply fucked up, in the sense that it plies a relentlessly dark logic (or illogic) upon a series of bad decisions in such a way that, at first, you are completely disoriented, and then, finally, you are in the grip of an inescapable nightmare that is no less horrifying for being completely understandable.
As with so much horror, the grounding of this story is domestic. Richard (Richard Armitage) and his two children, Aldan and Mia (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh), are reeling after the suicide of wife/mom Laura (Alicia Silverstone), precipitated by their impending divorce. It doesn’t help that Richard has hooked up with Grace (the wonderful Riley Keough), the sole survivor of a religious cult that ended with a Heaven’s Gate-style mass suicide.
The kids blame their father’s involvement with Grace for their mother’s death, but Richard — the perfect portrait of the clueless parent whose apparent good-heartedness masks a narcissistic abyss — is intent on everyone healing up and getting along. He plans a holiday getaway to a remote winter lodge. The rub is that he drops the kids and Grace there alone, promising to return for Christmas when he finishes up his work in the city.
Needless to say, all hell breaks loose, and one of the true pleasures of The Lodge is the way it gaslights its audience: Is Grace insane? Is she a victim or a villain? Is the lodge haunted? Are the kids just shitheads? Is everyone dead? The frozen landscapes of rural Massachusetts — and especially the creaking groan of a frozen lake in the dead of winter — work to amplify the psychological isolation of the characters, evoking an atmosphere of claustrophobia and lurking terror within the infinite expanse of a frozen tundra. Inside and outside are forever flipping and intersecting in this movie.
It’s invigorating to see so many recent horror movies, from Hereditary and Midsommar to Babadook and Goodnight Mommy, rediscover the genre’s primordial roots in the stuff of Grimm’s Fairy Tales: bad parenting, childhood trauma, hereditary sin, the wages of grief, innocence lost. You might wonder what kind of father would expose his own grieving kids to enforced isolation with his questionably sane new fiancée but, frankly, this kind of shit happens all the time.
The Lodge takes everyday family dysfunction and cranks the knob to 11, and the result is a postmodern fairy tale that brilliantly churns our contemporary fears and phobias into something resembling a 21st-century Hansel and Gretel. The thread of its narrative is a twisty loop that inexorably resolves itself into a noose, and — despite the seemingly fantastical elements of the story — it never once sacrifices the bleakness of its vision to false sentimentality.
Behind every good horror story is a cautionary tale, and The Lodge hides a doozy. There is a fatefulness to the evil it depicts that is devastating but hard to pin down — which makes it all the more disturbing, like a compound error arising from careless good intentions, paving the way to you know what. (Broadway Metro)