'The Lodge' Movie Review: Glacial Cabin Fever Horror Frozen in Horror Movie Past

The most exciting scene in The Lodge is when Grace (Riley Keough) and her boyfriend's two kids, Aidan and Mia (Jaeden Lieberher and Lia McHugh), watch the part in The Thing where Childs (Keith David) torches the mutating dogs with a flamethrower. We also see another moment from earlier in the 1982 movie play on the TV at the titular lodge, when Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) explains away the fate of the cracked-up Norwegian expedition. "Cabin fever, who knows?" he says. By the time The Lodge finds its own cabin fever, it's too late.

Minor spoilers for The Lodge ahead, but major plot points are avoided.

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Riley Keough as Grace in 'The Lodge.' Neon

The Lodge opens with a jolt, when Mia and Aidan's mother (Alicia Silverstone), kills herself after learning of her estranged husband Richard's (Richard Armitage) intent to marry Grace. The kids blame her for their mother's death, describing her as a psychopath because of her traumatic past: at 12, Grace was the only surviving member of a suicide cult led by her father.

Mia and Aidan's father is an aesthete workaholic, with a taste for Nordic spaces and deluxe rustic experiences, like the Thanksgiving meal he serves up outdoors in the cold, where his presentational tableau appears almost magazine-ready. He wrote the book on Grace's family cult and its 39 dead bodies but still has a demanding career, which leads to his terrible plan to leave his kids with Grace at the lodge in the days before Christmas.

After forty or so minutes of this uncomfortable, thrown-together family dynamic, the narrative gearwork starts to click, and a succession of contrivances drag Grace back toward her cult days. Snowbound and without power, it's not long before reality begins shifting around her. At first, things go missing: her pills, then her clothes and her dog. Soon the dead intrude, as Grace hears her father's voice and sees him under the ice. Then she's sleepwalking again; she's seeing Aidan and Mia in their beds, cult shrouds covering their faces. Eventually, she takes up old prayers, mortifying her body in the cold or kneeling down on hot coals.

But while The Lodge plays at religious subjectivity, it ultimately returns to plotting. The causes of the strange happenings in The Lodge, when revealed, are deflating. After building itself of mass suicides and religious visions, The Lodge ends flatly, with all its holy imagery swapped for a different narrative device (this one metal, and repetitively emphasized throughout). The Lodge slides the minds of its characters apart, but struggles doing the same to its audience, relying too much on visual and auditory props—a painting of a black-robed madonna, dying brine shrimp, fizzing diegetic sound and ear-slamming organ bursts—with so little connection to events they begin to feel like affectations from some other movie; like its periodic returns to Mia's dollhouse, where events in the lodge are restaged in miniature.

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Neon

In Hereditary, Annie (Toni Collette) creates miniatures dramatizing her loss of control in the larger world, but in The Lodge it's more like a gimmick. But Hereditary isn't the only movie in The Lodge collage. When Richard returns to the cabin, his journey tracks so closely with Scatman Crothers' in The Shining that the shot selection should come watermarked with a spoiler warning. Horror has always been a genre built on knock-offs and recycled ideas, but, in this case, homage ends up undercutting any possible impact of the mental breakdown at the movie's core. Rather than focusing on the psychology of its characters, The Lodge can only crack open a head full of other horror movies.

Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, The Lodge is in theaters now.