The Ending of 'The Lodge' Is a Disappointing Horror Cliché Retread
This piece contains major spoilers for The Lodge.
All horror is designed to make you feel discomfort. Sometimes it's through jump-scares, other times it's gore, but pretty much all of it is there for the audience to feel that sick, exhilarating rush of being frightened. The ending of the much-anticipated horror film The Lodge is one of the most discomfiting of all, though not necessarily in a good way, as it slogs through almost every horror cliché in the book to get there.
From directing duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, who also made the profoundly messed-up Goodnight Mommy, The Lodge centers on two children, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), and their soon-to-be stepmother Grace (Riley Keough) staying in an alpine mountain cabin over the holidays. All seems fine (well, not fine at all, really, but we'll get there) until weird stuff starts happening inside the house, and the young stepmother tries to figure out what's going on.
It's a cool premise, but when the big reveal happens a little past midway through the film, it becomes a disappointing retread of a number of horror tropes, including one that Franz and Fiala have already explored in their previous film. The Lodge begins in a way not unlike last spring's fantastic Midsommar, with a death that's much, more horrible than anything the rest of the movie can cook up. After Aidan and Mia's father Richard (Richard Armitage) informs their tearful mother (Alicia Silverstone -- yes really!) that he wants to finalize their divorce, she returns home, pours herself a glass of wine, and shoots herself. Naturally the children blame their father's new girlfriend Grace for the destruction of their family, and in order to mitigate this, months after their mother committed suicide Richard suggests the family spend the holidays at their mountain house, so that Grace can get to know the kids better.
It's obviously a terrible idea, made even more terrible when he leaves to finish up some work back in town, taking the car for a couple days and promising he'll be back soon. Classic horror movie absent dad. Things can only get worse from here. Interestingly, we don't actually "meet" Grace until the stitched-together family is in the car heading to the mountains, though we're introduced to her through police reports and news items the children discover online about Grace's affiliation with a suicide cult -- presumably, she and their father met while he was writing his true-crime bestseller about the very same group. Dating apps don't look so bad now.
Things go from uncomfortable to deadly once weird stuff starts happening inside the house. We're unclear whether this movie is about a haunting -- perhaps the kids' mother is back to wreak her revenge on Grace? -- or if someone is messing with the family, or if it's Grace's own fragile mental wellbeing that's being torn apart by isolation. She's shown popping pills of unspecified origin, and she already has the burden of being a suicide cult survivor working against her. The three cozy up on the couch to watch The Thing, another movie about not being able to trust your surroundings or the people around you.
Ultimately, Grace and, it appears, the children, become convinced that they're actually dead and trapped in Purgatory, unable to leave the house. Grace walks off into a blizzard, determined to find a way out, but makes a big circle and ends up back in their front yard. Aidan tells her that they must already be dead because they can't die, and to prove his point, he hangs himself in the stairwell.
Then, of course, the other shoe drops. We see a slow zoom into the attic of a body harness Aidan used for his little death-defying trick, and a small boombox playing a recut version of one of the cult patriarch's repentance speeches the kids found online. When we cut back to their father, who's packing his things to return to the cabin and stumbles upon the children's dollhouse (underutilized, as in Hereditary), he sees that the children have used the house, which is, creepily, an exact replica of their mountain lodge, to act out exactly what they plan to do with Grace, down to a bloody "REPENT" written on one of the walls.
Grace has trapped the children in the attic, menacing them with the pistol Richard had shown her how to use in an earlier scene and telling them that repentance -- in this case, killing their already purgatoried souls -- is the only way out. The kids try to convince her that it was all just a trick, but she's much too far gone. At this moment, Richard arrives at the house and meets them on the stairwell. Trying to prove that they're all in Purgatory and can't die, Grace pulls the trigger on first herself and survives because there's no bullet in the chamber, but when she does the same to him she shoots him in front of his children.
The final scene is of the "family" sitting around the kitchen table as she sticks duct tape with the word "SIN" written on it over their mouths, reminiscent of a video taken after her suicide cult had all killed themselves. This is where it all ends, but, given how cruel it's been to its characters so far, it's safe to assume Grace must have killed them. It's bleakness merely for the sake of bleakness, and the reveal flops even harder if you know beforehand that Fiala and Franz have already made this movie. Their previous film, Goodnight Mommy, is also about (spoiler alert) two children stuck in a house in the snowy wilderness who torture a woman they believe is trying to replace their mother. Why this again? Are these directors just working out some intensely distrustful emotions they have about children? Look, kids are plenty scary, I won't argue against that, but with its final reveal, The Lodge ends up a disappointing muddle of clichés and twists that have already worked out much better in better movies. Just stay home and flip on The Thing instead.
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