Take it from Alan Alda in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) when he says, “If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it’s not funny.”
The same can be said about thrillers and horrors where suspension of disbelief is so fragile, the moment you push the otherworldly button too soon or too forcefully, you break the reality, thus the belief (thus, the scares).
I see this occur in both of Writer/Director Ari Aster’s Gen-Z beloveds, Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019). Both start off so well, invoking an atmosphere of impending doom as the characters covet unhealthy, co-dependent relationships to survive paranormal and foreign culture territories. What a shame they end up crying and wailing almost more than they speak. What a shame Aster turns his reactionary ambiguity and psychotic parallelism into cheap cultish scapegoats with shock conventions abound. The horrifyingly believable becomes the horrifyingly boring, and I’m content living in the minority as an Ari Aster yawner and a seasoned moviegoer.
Because the truth is, I’ve seen too many movies. Gen-Zers have not. To them, Ari Aster is the best thing since Instagram (or, is it Twitter?). They don’t have the time or patience to watch the unfolding psychosis of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Polanski’s caged fear in Repulsion (1965), Roeg’s blood red imagery in Don’t Look Now (1973), or even the first found-footage groundbreaker, The Blair Witch Project (1999). And, who can blame them? There is always something else “new” out there on mediascapes that provide a copycat of what has already been done before time and time again (the “Twilight” trope has been replicated via Netflix ad naseum, and, yes, the recent and infamous Joker is a perfect example of cinema’s unoriginality).
So, when I watch the sparsely distributed indie flick, The Lodge, and finally see an example of “less is more” in the horror genre, I jump on it.
No, The Lodge is nowhere close to the masterpieces mentioned above, but it is certainly more effective than anything Ari Aster because it just keeps “bending” and never “breaks.” The irony is that the cult theme is prevalent in this film and Aster’s duo. Yet, where Aster uses the cult as an excuse and justification for all the Clive Barker-esque gore he brings to the second half of his movies, The Lodge uses the cult as an overtone and metaphor, and no shock or gore are necessary or implemented. The imagination does more scaring, and that has always been the most effective aesthetic device in film since the release of Jaws (1975) and Alien (1979).
We follow Aidan (the Daniel Radcliffe doppelgänger from It and Knives Out) and Mia (Lia McHugh) who spend Christmas with their father, Richard, and his new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough) in an isolated cabin in the woods. Yes, the horror flick clichés and contrivances are splattered all over this setup, but that’s exactly where The Lodge takes a subtle – not bludgeon-blow obvious – turn: Grace is the primary reason behind the children’s parents’ divorce, she has a few dark secrets up her sleeve, and the deceased birth mother might still be lingering in the walls of the cold, decrepit cabin.
Lock the doors, turn off the power, and welcome the snowstorm – these peeps are in for a nightmare before Christmas. The familiar setup becomes foreboding, unfolding in places never foreseen by the audience. Where Aster takes his well crafted psychological tensions to the chopping block (or rock in Midsommer‘s case), The Lodge keeps riding a slow burn concept of abandonment and disillusionment. One relies on shock (literally, a hammer to the skull of an elder while American onlookers brainlessly stay for the after party a la typical 80s horror night). The other successfully provokes thought.
Minimalistic, claustrophobic, and harrowing – this is what thrillers and horrors are all about. Although the sophomore director team of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala uses far too many closeups, and the metaphorical translations prove a bit reaching at the end, The Lodge never appeases short attention spans and mindless violence grabbers like Ari Aster’s mainstreamers do.
The Lodge will never hit as many theatres as Midsommar, nor the box office numbers, and it will never gain popular attention. But, I’ll tell you where it will one-up anything Ari Aster: It won’t break to convention, and that’s something pretty rare and admirable in any movie – big or small – these days.
The Lodge ***1/2 out of *****
Midsommar **1/2 out of *****
Thank you for reading and please feel free to respectfully tell me otherwise. 🙂