Hammer’s first Christmas film since Cash on Demand (1961)?
Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, who also co-scripted this with Sergio Casci, made an effective debut with Ich seh Ich she/Goodnight Mommy – though that was very derivative of The Other, with a cruelty which sometimes verged on that Michael Haneke make-you-suffer tactic whereby the chief victim of motiveless malignity turns out to be you the viewer. For their follow-up, they partnered with Hammer Films, who were still trying to find a way of re-establishing their horror brand, which seems to have drifted a little since the apparent breakthrough of The Woman in Black – and it’s taken a while for the 2019 film to get much visibility.
The Lodge is an interesting, complicated picture which, among several other things, plays with rerunning aspects of Goodnight Mommy as two children are stranded in a snowbound lodge with their unwanted soon-to-be-stepmother and a situation arises in which they might have an opportunity to torment the already-fragile young woman. In a prologue, we discover along with Laura Hall (Alicia Silverstone) that her husband Richard (Richard Armitage) intends to marry Grace (Riley Keough), sole survivor of a Christian suicide cult Richard has written a book about. Laura takes the news badly and blows her brains out. Which means that, some months later, sulky teen Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and more open-hearted Mia (Lia McHugh – note the trick of rhyming actor and character names) aren’t exactly delighted to spend Christmas at a family lodge in a snowbound region with Grace, especially when Richard (on a suspiciously thin work commitment) has to abandon them with a promise to return on Christmas Eve only for snow to make that unlikely. The kids put up a cold front, and a few incidents suggest they’d be happy to arrange Grace’s death – but then they all pass out while watching a movie (she’s taken off The Thing and put on Jack Frost, which would make it a justifiable homicide plea in most horror fan households) and wake up to find the clocks say it’s late January, the power out and unfixable, all the food gone from the fridge, and the outdoor coats missing.
Have they died thanks to a faulty gas-heater and are lingering as ghosts – in which case, why is Grace cold and hungry? The film seesaws between making Grace the victim and the menace, with the prank-playing kids – who aren’t on the same page as each other, with the little girl upset at her brother’s mistreatment of Grace’s dog – not appreciating how deep Grace’s own childhood trauma scars are. It’s leisurely (108 minutes) but cleverly switches angles every few minutes, even hopping from sub-genres – and there are a couple of scenes-we’d-like-to-see twists on familiar set-ups, like the shooting lesson where the newbie doesn’t miss on the first shot and in fact does pretty well … or the it’s-all-a-plot-plot stratagem which is credibly clumsy because it’s being pulled by kids who can’t be expected to pull off a con with the skill of the Mission: Impossible team. Keough has racked up a surprising number of ambitious genre credits without being typecast – like Andrea Riseborough, she has the knack of being different every time out without really altering her appearance: Jack & Diane, Kiss of the Damned, Mad Max Fury Road, It Comes At Night, The House That Jack Built, Under the Silver Lake, The Devil All the Time. She pulls this together, conveying an extraordinary, agonised arc – and is splendid in a finish which might answer back the way Goodnight Mommy played out.
Obviously, the snowy setting evokes The Shining (and The Thing), but this also fits into a spate of movies which use doll houses as a central metaphor – we keep seeing tableaux reflective of the action of the film, but in miniature.
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