The Lodge packs quite the premise: Following the suicide of their mother (Alicia Silverstone, in an all-too-brief cameo), two young siblings are dropped off by their father to stay at their isolated vacation lodge with his fiancée Grace (Riley Keough), a woman with a startling background of her own. That scenario is fraught with all kinds of real-life trauma — divorce, the death of a parent, and being trapped in a small environment with a someone you don’t trust.
Austrian directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (of 2014’s superior Goodnight Mommy) go to painstaking lengths to drench their setup in as much icy atmosphere as possible; fans of A24’s hip brand of “elevated” horror (Hereditary, The Witch, etc.) will feel right at home. Unfortunately, the impressive style is kneecapped by an inane script that feels more in line with a bottom-barrel Blumhouse joint. Imagine if an arthouse heavy-hitter like Michael Haneke directed The Bye Bye Man and you’re not far off.
At their respective ages of 13 and 10, neither Aiden (IT’s Jaeden Martell) nor his sister Mia (Lia McHugh) are emotionally equipped to wrap their heads around their mother’s death let alone stay alone with Grace while their father’s out of town on business. Things only turn more grim when the kids Google their soon-to-be stepmom and find she was a survivor of a religious death cult led by her father. Nothing ominous about that, right? This early revelation is where The Lodge’s rather ingenious setup veers from sinister to silly.
Once things inevitably go awry at the lodge — the electricity goes out, phones lose their signals, both Grace and the children have vivid nightmares — the movie poses a fairly tantalizing question of whether the kids or Grace are the ones with malevolent intentions. However, the same filmmakers explored that same dynamic to far more compelling effect in Mommy. This time, the script stretches out the conflict to the point of tedium. The Lodge packs a few unnerving sequences — much of which can be credited to cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, whose camera lurks through the lodge’s halls like a lecherous spirit — but the entire middle section seems like an overlong tease for a Big Reveal in the third act.
By the time that reveal hits, it doesn’t feel quite as astonishing as Fiala and Franz clearly believe it to be. The film’s setup only has a few credible outcomes, which the audience has plenty of time to mull over throughout the sluggish second act.
When does this brand of indie-arthouse horror begin to feel generic? Depending on how you choose to read it, The Lodge may just be a bump in the road or a harbinger of stale things to come. Nearly every element here feels top-notch; Keough and the child actors mostly sell their ludicrous characters, and this Austrian directing duo has formal skill for days. Hell, the premise alone is enough to prompt excitement. Still, we’ve seen this all before. There’s even a dollhouse motif here used to mirror the predicament of the characters that can’t help but draw unflattering comparisons to Hereditary. The Lodge is, like the dollhouse, meticulously crafted and pretty to look at… but totally empty.