As promised, more thoughts about The Lodge [includes all the spoilers] #richardarmitage

 

This is a weird post to write, because most readers can’t / won’t have seen the film as I am writing. I would really encourage you not to read these remarks unless you absolutely know that you don’t want to or won’t be able to see the film, because the ending does matter to how we see the plot, and I will discuss the ending here. At the same time, I also don’t know when or if I will be able to see it again, and I want to write down a few more details before the whole thing recedes from my memory. So, at the risk that there’s practically no one who wants to read or talk about it, here’s a bit more about The Lodge. Keep in mind, too, while reading my impressions, that I watch scarcely any horror films. So some of my issues with the film may relate to things that are simply accepted in that genre, of which I am not a consumer.

SPOILERS
SPOILERS
SPOILERS
SPOILERS

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. I TRIED TO INSERT A “READ MORE” CUT HERE BUT IN CASE IT DIDN’T WORK, STOP HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW MORE.

 

 

The Lodge may be a great horror film — I am in no position to judge — but in my opinion, it is minimally competent as a drama. This is strange because on the whole I would describe it as a well-made film: care was obviously taken, particularly with locations and cinematography, but also (whether I think it’s successful or not) with acting and directing. So why does the script feel so empty?

The basic features of the film’s plot are well known; I will add a few details in my summary. The main character of the film is Grace (Riley Keough), the survivor of a religious suicide cult and the girlfriend / fiancée of Richard (Richard Armitage). At the beginning of the film, Richard is in process of divorcing from Laura (Alicia Silverstone), the mother of his children (Jaeden Lieberher as Aidan and and Lia McHugh as Mia). As we learn later, Richard has also reported on / written a book about the cult that Grace has survived, so he is very aware of her experiences. The film’s initial scenes, which start us off in the former family home, especially to show us Lia’s dollhouse, also makes clear that the divorce is not an amicable one, either for the children or for Laura. When she drops the kids off at his new place, after she glimpses Grace withdrawing discretely (Richard lies and tells Laura Grace isn’t there), Richard tells Laura he wants to finalize the divorce. Shortly thereafter, in a room with an ostentatiously positioned crucifix, Laura abruptly kills herself with a pistol to the head. (I found the staging of this moment shocking and gratuitous, but I suspect this is a generic convention; what’s more annoying is that the film really understates the religious significance of that particular suicide, and for me, that has consequences for the film as a drama.)

Not like any Catholic funeral I’ve ever been to.

The survivors are left to deal with the consequences. The kids move in with Richard, where their material surroundings are more cramped, although no less well-heeled. They keep the stuff they had in the family home, especially Mia’s dollhouse, which is set for recurring appearances throughout the film in various states of disarray and with the characters in different positions depending on the mood. It’s clear that the siblings are close to each other, if not necessarily to their father, as Aidan tries hard to comfort his inconsolable sister. In particular, Mia’s worried about her mother’s after-life destination and how the suicide will affect her presence in Purgatory. She also clings to a Barbie-ish doll that seems to stand in at several moments for her dead mother. Richard tries to console Mia, to little effect, as his statements indicate that he does not belief in an afterlife (“noone knows where they go”) and their body language at the funeral indicates that he and his son are noticeably cool toward each other. At Thanksgiving (the family apparently has a custom of wearing fake turkey hats at dinner — this is the kind of silly, surreal detail that can really wins me for a film), Richard unsubtly informs his children that he (still) plans to marry Grace. They are not thrilled.

Then we get to the stepping-off point for the rest of the film and Grace’s emergence as main character: Richard’s bright idea that the family will drive up to “the lodge” (their own cabin), and that after a few days, the kids will stay with Grace while he returns to the city to do some work. He will join them again later for Christmas. Grace is hesitant but agrees; the kids are not happy. Aidan in particular is actively hostile, charging that Grace is a psychopath. Aidan goes so far as to use his father’s computer to research Grace’s past, while Mia watches. The research includes a video of a sermon given by the cult leader, who is Grace’s father. We see both children packing items for the trip that will later turn out to be significant to the plot. Grace brings her dog.

The drive is a bit tense, with Richard affectionate toward Grace and the kids hostile. The lodge, when the family arrives, is simultaneously cheery and eerie — exactly what we expect from an isolated winter vacation home — potentially cozy but with an unfamiliar chill that has to be fought off with cocoa, the fireplace, and good feelings. The first two are available, but the third is periodic and limited to Richard and Grace’s exchanges and Grace’s affection for her dog. It’s also filled with religious symbols — especially a grimy, shadowing picture of Mary (a reproduction of Antonello da Messina’s Virgin Annunciate [1476]) on the dining room wall and a crucifix on the wall of the bedroom Richard and Grace share. At a meal, Mia crosses herself demonstratively and says Catholic grace before meals (although, for reasons that are unclear, she only says half of it), which is apparently intended as a boundary-setting gesture. Later, Grace reassures Richard that the crucifix on their bedroom wall doesn’t trouble her. Flashbacks throughout reveal, however, that Grace’s situation is not so stable as all that. She hears her father preaching; she sees other victims of the cult with the word “sin” duct-taped across their faces, dead under coverlets, and so on.

The house is set right in front of a big lake, and before Richard leaves, the family enjoys some time together. Richard shovels some snow (!!!) and Grace tries to ice skate. Unfortunately (?), Grace puts on a hat that had belonged to Laura and the kids object. Then Mia drops her doll through the ice — when Grace tries to rescue it, she falls through. While Richard is busy rescuing Grace, Mia saves the doll (a comic but ominous moment). We see that Grace is taking some kind of anti-anxiety medicine.

Riley Keough as Grace in The Lodge (2018).

Richard eventually leaves for work — with the warning that the kids should not look for their Christmas presents! Before he leaves he retrieves a handgun from a lockbox in a closet and shows Grace how to use it, but she’s already an expert and she gets off several shots quickly. Once he’s gone, the descent into madness begins. The exact sequence of events has by now faded into memory for me as I only saw it once, but although there’s definitely a program for fun and relaxation, it involves watching scary films (I didn’t recognize any of them, so those references were lost on me, sorry) and putting up mildly creepy Christmas decorations. Aidan remains immune to any friendly gesture of Grace’s, while Mia is intermittently distant and friendly to her. They bond a bit over their fathers’ refusal to give them dogs as children.

Grace (Riley Keough) looking into the dollhouse in The Lodge (2018).

When odd things start to happen, the viewer might see them as coincidences, but eventually they pile up in a way that suggests alternately that the events are occurring only in Grace’s imagination, only in the viewer’s imagination, or perhaps (if you remember the kids putting things in their luggage before the trip) deliberately, in order to haze, or at least spook Grace. For instance, we catch Aidan watching Grace in the shower, and there are repeated arguments between the two. At the same time, Grace finds Mia’s doll in places where it should not be — suggesting the kids are looking for their Christmas presents, or something more sinister. We see Grace resorting more and more often to her medication. Scenes from life at the Lodge cut abruptly to pictures of Mia’s dollhouse, apparently to indicate time divisions but also potentially to reinforce our growing suspicion that the kids are masterminding the scene or that Grace is losing her sanity. Matters come to a head when electricity goes out, the cell phones appear to be dead, and a number of items disappear (the decorations, the food in the refrigerator, etc.). Grace’s dog also goes missing, and Grace looks for it. At some point she decides to walk out on her own — a foolhardy decision even under normal circumstances in such horrible weather — and she gets stalled on the lake, with flashbacks to her past, looking at another structure that may or may not actually be there. Increasingly, Grace’s flashbacks to the murders of the suicide cult are cut with glimpses of Aidan’s body. She comes back to discover Aidan reading their obituaries, asserting that they are all dead, and insisting they must pray. Grace is so far into her delusions at this point that she can’t see this for what it is — an extreme game taken too far.

Grace during her attempt to leave The Lodge.

When the dog reappears, frozen to death, Grace is at the end of her rope, and Mia takes pity — she informs Aidan that they have to stop. The kids retreat to the place in the basement where they’ve hidden all the missing stuff — but the electricity is still out and their generator will not start. Mia’s cell phone is now dead as well; she “spent too much time talking to dad.” They inform Grace that it was all made up, but Grace is increasingly submerged in her fantasies (cue more flashbacks, negative interactions with the Virgin, and so on). The kids retreat to an attic in hopes they can escape her. Richard realizes what’s going on — apparently after looking at the dollhouse, where the word “repent” is now painted on the wall — calls to leave a voicemail, and takes off for the lodge. When he arrives there, she has reached the attic and is threatening the kids. She informs Richard that they all have to repent because they were sinning. He rejects this possibility and tries to talk her down the stairs — she first tries to kill herself and fails (no bullet in the chamber) and as he coaxes her to give him the gun, she fires at him; as it turns out, fatally. The kids escape to his vehicle but can’t get it out of the snow. The film closes with the whole family — the kids and Richard’s corpse, which someone has dragged downstairs and positioned — seated at the dinner table, with Grace informing the kids that they all need to repent, the kids visibly trembling, and a suggestive final shot that lingers on the handgun on the table. The Lady or the Tiger?

Richard Armitage as Richard in The Lodge (2018).

[So, yeah, for the full Armitage experience you do have to watch the entire film. As consolation, he is really attractively dressed all the way through the film, even if he’s only in the first twenty minutes of it. I especially loved seeing his socks on hardwood floors, his sweaters, and his outerwear and big boots on the lake. He looks less good covered in blood, but that’s really a tiny fraction of his admittedly fractional experience. Oh: and there was also a really good thumbshot!]

Not even the best thumbshot!

Frankly, I found a lot of this film implausible on a plot level. Surely journalistic ethics precludes relationships like this. It’s not clear what Richard finds so attractive about Grace or what the issues in his failed marriage were. What father leaves his children alone with his fiancée in a situation like this, especially after his son has expressed the belief that the woman is a psychopath? Why would they not remove the signs of Laura’s presence from the lodge in advance, especially if Richard is not a devout Catholic? Why would he leave an inexperienced woman alone in a winter setting like that? Why would he maroon her without a car? Why would he explain to her how to use the handgun? Why does he even have a handgun (this is Canada after all)? Why would he be so cavalier in staying in touch, since his family is incommunicado for what looks like at least two days before he decides he needs to go there? Why was he looking at his daughter’s dollhouse and why was that the final motivation to rescue them? Why would anyone get that close to a handgun if he didn’t know exactly how it was loaded? But I assume we’re just supposed to suspend our disbelief on this issue. Unfortunately for me, plausibility is a huge issue in evaluating any narrative so I found this film less suspenseful than I had anticipated.

Maybe we could call this a mitten shot. Richard leaves his family to return to his job.

But the real issue that the script doesn’t deal with adequately is that it’s a story with no villain. We get the idea that Richard is a bit callous or clueless. I’d even go so far as self-centered or focused on his own needs. But he’s not in the film long enough, or in scenes with sufficient emotional intensity, to suggest that he’s truly malicious. The film makes his presence more or less a narrative cul-de-sac: On the one hand, his decisions set what appears to be the main problem of the plot in motion; on the other, it’s hard to discern any motivation at all beyond the superficial in everything he causes to have happen. When he gets it in the end, it’s impossible to feel anything at all (sadness or relief) as the character is such a nothing. Now we know why he said almost nothing about the character during the scant moments he spoke during the Sundance publicity: because he’s a superficial plot element. It’s a bit the same with Aidan, who plans and conducts (with Mia’s assistance) the campaign to undermine Grace’s sanity. Yes, it’s a horribly mean thing to do (and I wasn’t tremendously impressed that the ostentatiously oh-so-religious Mia went along with it. I was a religious kid too and I knew that this kind of thing was wrong by the time I was her age). But since divorce became common in the 1970s, it’s more or less expected that children will haze their parents’ new lovers, isn’t it?

Riley Keough as Grace in The Lodge (2018).

So the only villain in the film is the one in Grace’s mind — her religious past and her growing inability to distinguish between reality and delusion. This is an intriguing idea, but I was not in the least convinced by Keogh’s performance. She seemed to be phoning it in the whole time and it was harder to tell that she was suffering from religious anguish than it was to see that the cold was bothering her a lot. I guess that this approach could be termed “understated,” and several critics praised the performance, so chacun à son goût, but I found my mind wandering during the long shots of her face or the flashbacks to the murders she survived.

But one reason the script failed in my estimation was that its religious framework was more or less pro forma and not believable for me (I thought this was weird just because I thought I read or heard in one of the interviews that the directors were atheists or wanted to say something about religion). Admittedly I’ve had this issue before when resentful atheists write film scripts about the Church. Here it once again was hard on the plot. The film more or less passes over Laura’s suicide without much comment — although this would be a serious problem for a devoutly Catholic family. The issue is pushed onto Mia’s worries about Purgatory, but it’s unclear what she believes about the teaching — and the few indications in the script tend to suggest that she views it in a way that’s no longer the standard for Catholic teaching in the twenty-first century. Since the 60s and then the 90s, the Church has backed aware from severe teachings about the ultimate fate of suicides. In any case, in the context of contemporary Catholic theology as disseminated in North America, it’s unlikely that such a young girl would be preoccupied with specifically this problem. Mia reads theologically like a character from 1957 or so. And the sprinkling of religious imagery (crucifixes, the Virgin) seemed arbitrary rather than meaningful. And what was the relationship of Aidan and Richard to Catholicism? Not touched upon in the least. It’s important in terms of how family allegiances might be playing out.

Equally problematic is the implication that Grace’s problems also stem from questions about Purgatory in relationship to her past history, just because Catholic suicide cults are extremely rare. One reason is probably the historic teaching of the Church, which was so unsympathetic to suicides. There just are comparatively few Catholic cults, because the administration of the Church is so strong (and because of the weight of the teaching for centuries extra ecclesiam nulla salus). So most Christian religious cults tend to be Protestant and Purgatory is a non-issue in the vast majority of Protestant Churches. The scrap of the sermon we hear from Grace’s father bears no relationship either to Catholicism or Christianity. And nothing about what we learn about the cult in the film suggests that it’s Catholic, so it’s unclear why Grace would focus on Purgatory as part of the issue that necessitates killing the unrepentant (and apparently unreligious) Richard. So I get why Grace would be preoccupied with her past and maybe with sin, but Purgatory was a silly red herring. As was the recurrence of the image of the Virgin. (Incidentally, “Mary reading” or “Mary with a book” is a frequent medieval and early modern motif and usually the book refers to Jesus, the logos of the Gospel according to John.) Why the Virgin? Why this image? What did it mean to the family? What did it mean to Grace? The film doesn’t give us a clue.

So why should we care? Well, if neither Richard nor Aidan is the villain and Grace is the victim of her delusions, understanding both the delusions and why the children are hostile to Grace would seem pretty essential to creating tension in the movie, and neither of those things happens. For me, the main message of the film on the religious level was “there are some people who are overly preoccupied with religion and it fills their lives with delusion.”

Okay. I guess I can accept that even if cults are extremely rare and most religious people are not like either Grace or Mia. I just didn’t get why it was supposed to work as the motor of suspense in this film. The film never made plausible to me what was at stake in Mia’s sorrow or Grace’s flashbacks or Aidan’s willingness to manipulate or Richard’s (minor) dismissiveness, and it failed to take me into a world where they would taunt, bully, and kill each other over these issues.

~ by Servetus on June 28, 2019.

15 Responses to “As promised, more thoughts about The Lodge [includes all the spoilers] #richardarmitage”

  1. I would live to see the film if I can, but couldn’t resist reading your spoiler sprinkled review. I am a horror movie fan, but this sounds a little on the psycho thriller side. I don’t have much of a religious background, so purgatory and other references don’t mean much to me. What I had read of the plot previously lost me almost from the first moments. Who in their right mind carries on with his girlfriend after the mother of
    his children kills herself and expects the kids to get along with the woman who may have triggered their mother’s death? Even if he were “only” divorced, you wouldn’t expect the kids to be happy with their mom’s replacement. Sad to read about dad’s fate. Another RA character bites the dust. Why am I not surprised? Hope this comment didn’t need a spoiler alert. Loved your review. Thanks for writing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • all the spoilers are fine here as this post is marked as including all the spoilers.

      I wondered if the film just didn’t really translate to North America from Austria. European parents tend not to hold their kids as close as American parents do, for one thing. Admittedly I resent people who are negative about the Church but display their ignorance about it from the word go, but here it’s more than there isn’t really any coherent explanation for anyone’s behavior other than this placeholder “Purgatory,” and we don’t know what that means to any of the characters. No one shows any convincing grief. It was unusually emotionally sterile, especially for a film that Richard Armitage is in. Even when he has nothing roles in other films he definitely brings the emotion across, but in this film it’s like he’s taken a Xanax or something.

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  2. Hmmm, sounds like another candidate for the “fangirl cut” treatment – without the unhappy ending of course!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, absolutely. In the same category as those Ultimate Force fangirl cuts ten years ago that didn’t show Ian dying.

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  3. Thank you for your thoughts. The film is unlikely to reach the UK although I don’t think I would cross the street to watch it.
    I can’t think of one good reason why he took the role. ( I shall blame his agent lol)

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    • I think being in a film with the directors might have been motivational, but after seeing it I can not see anything in this script that would plausibly appeal to him. I mean even in Into the Storm he was able to patch together some motivation but there’s nothing here.

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    • btw, I just read that NEON bought the UK distribution rights. So they at least plan to show it there.

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  4. From the first time I had read about the film I really didn’t have the desire to see it and mostly because I knew RA would not be in it much and why does it not surprise me that he is killed in the end? There he goes again.

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    • I felt like it couldn’t end with everyone getting out of the situation happily — someone was going to have to die. (Maybe that’s also a convention of horror, that it doesn’t have ahppy endings?) But there again it’s kind of a question who. You can’t kill a kid, that’s too brutal. So either Richard or Grace has to die. But it’s kind of hard to know who to kill if the death is to have any meaning. If Grace kills herself, it doesn’t matter much because the kids hate her and we never see that Richard is all that invested. If Richard dies, okay, it kind of seems pointless because he’s not an actual villain, but he’s the only remaining option.

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      • Maybe Richard should have killed Grace?

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        • Wow! That would have been a shocker. (She seems to be much more experienced in weapon usage than he is.). But indeed it might have been interesting. He saves his kids and is forced to murder his lover.

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  5. Good review..Not my cup of tea..I don’t like horror films.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me neither, but this didn’t bother me the way that horror I films I have seen typically bother me (too violent, too scary).

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  6. I just LOVE the names of the characters

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