As you may remember, I was very disappointed that scheduled events on the home front prevented me from flying to Toronto to see My Zoe, but I did get to see The Lodge on Friday, at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF). (Thanks, Serv, for letting me know it would be playing here!)
The film was scheduled to end at midnight in a not-so-great part of town, but I had hoped to take my horror friend/protector (a.k.a. my younger son), until I realized that he wouldn’t be allowed into the 19+ venue. As the night of the show approached, I started getting a little nervous about being down there so late on my own and so I convinced my friend from work to come along. We made a full evening of it, complete with a Szechuan dinner at a favourite restaurant near there. Yum! (Pictures of our actual menu selections from the ChongQing website.)
I had heard that the movie was a horror, but I definitely would put it more in the psychological thriller category. Creepy and tense, with a few jump startles and some good atmosphere, but not actually scary from my point of view. I do like dark atmospheric movies, and in my opinion the lighting, pacing, and music combine well to create that overall feeling. There is a weird device, though, of setting up various tableaux using dolls in the daughter’s doll house back at her home, foreshadowing the film’s events. I really didn’t get it. Just a device, I guess.
The best way to experience the movie would be to see it completely spoiler-free, enjoying the gradual build-up of suspense and tension, the startling bits, and the chance to guess at what is really happening. However, while the trailer (below) doesn’t tell us too much, there has been lots of talk on-line, and even the description on the VIFF website completely gives it away! (For the earliest startling bit, though, I was kind of glad to have an idea of what was coming, as it gave me the opportunity to close my eyes. My friend didn’t have that chance and it was shocking for her.)
So, basically, without spoilers, the movie is about a dad (Richard Armitage) who decides that it would be an awesome idea to drive several hours to a remote lodge, the lodge the kids used to stay at with mom and dad when they were still together, on a bonding trip for his two children (Jaeden Lieberher/Martel; Lia McHugh) and his new fiancée (Riley Keough). He will then leave them there in the middle of the snow and ice with no car while he goes back to the city to work. The dad knows that his fiancée has a traumatic past of being the only survivor of a cult suicide, because he wrote a book that included her story. The kids hate the idea of this trip; they hate their future stepmother; and they have absolutely no plans to accept her into their lives. And yet, off they go. And off he goes. So. Right off the bat, an unbelievable premise.
… Unless you suspend all disbelief and/or believe that the dad is totally clueless and insensitive. If you can get past all of this, the story unfolds very well.
Richard as the dad, whose character’s name is also Richard, doesn’t do a whole lot for me, and he was the real reason I went to the movie. Yes, he looks attractive during his time on screen (although it is very hard to tell given how dark the film is), before returning to the city and again when he arrives back at the lodge near the end, but he isn’t playing a character I can like (or one with much depth to showcase his acting abilities). And he is even a bit creepy in the way he looks at the fiancée and caresses her knee (see the trailer below). There is one scene, though, with them giggling together in bed that is kind of cute. But otherwise, not much chemistry there. Also, unlike some of my fandom friends, the sight of Richard as a dad doesn’t really do it for me. I already have a man at home who is a dad. Richard is my leading-man fantasy lover. So. On to the rest of the movie.
Riley Keough does a great job as someone who is falling apart and succumbing to fear in the midst of the inexplicable things happening around her. Her screams and panic, while little-girlish, are really believable and highlight her youth as compared to the Richard character, as well as her closeness in age to the children. (To me, though, a better cult-aftermath psychological thriller is Martha Marcy May Marlene starring the excellent Elizabeth Olsen.) Lia McHugh is an extremely good crier, and she elicits sympathy early in the movie. Jaeden Lieberher/Martel (he alternates surnames) seems quite wooden to me, maybe because of the directing, because I thought he was really good in the movie It.
The ending of the movie came as a surprise to me and was thoroughly satisfying.
I’ve been trying to decide if on balance I like the movie… I think as a Richard Armitage movie, no, but as a psychological thriller and vehicle for Riley Keough, yes. However, it would be a better movie if their being at the lodge in the first place wasn’t so implausible and if the filmmakers had ditched that weird dollhouse device. My friend and I agreed that it was a movie we would see, but only once. I wish I had liked it more from a Richard point of view, but I would really like to see him in a meaty, leading man role, and particularly one where he uses his natural accent.
Waiting patiently for The Stranger.