“The Lodge” Horror Film Review

Immersive and utterly terrifying! After a dismal start to 2020 horror, The Lodge redeems the genre in a nightmarishly masterful story that will haunt you long after you leave the cinema. And you know you are in store for a wild ride with the Hammer Films logo at the beginning! This film’s ominous feeling of dread isn’t the result of any violence or gore, but in just how uncomfortable you will feel in virtually every scene thanks to the brilliant atmosphere crafted by  directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala along with their cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis and the haunting score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. With all the “hands in the pot,” so to speak, one might think that the soup might get spoiled as the old maxim suggests–not so. All the technical elements work together seamlessly to bring this story of the far-reaching effects of trauma, guilt, and isolation to life when one loses a parent. While Wes Craven’s horror masterpiece Scream still ranks the highest for me in terms of the most shocking and effective openings of all time, in not only horror, but in cinema period, the opening of The Lodge culminates in something big and scaring! And it’s that moment that sets our cast of characters on a journey that will test the limits of their sanity. The exploration of the limits of sanity through the lenses of loss and trauma is visualized in a very Shining manner, with influences from Hereditary as well. Both of these films clearly influenced the feeling and look of this film. Thankfully, these influences never take the focus away from The Lodge‘s original story. The American horror film is the best genre for forcing us to face our most primal fears and those that are created by traumatic experiences in our past. Ghosts of the past have a way of never truly going away.

During a family retreat to a remote winter cabin over the holidays, a father (Richard Armitage) is forced to abruptly depart for work, leaving his Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), his two children, in the care of his new girlfriend Grace (Riley Keough). Isolated and alone, a blizzard traps them inside the lodge as terrifying events summon specters from Grace’s dark past (IMDb). 

The production design and cinematography are truly standout technical elements in this incredibly uneasy experience. If you were to combine the lines and angles of The Shining with the mood and camera movement of Hereditary, then the product would be the aesthetic of The Lodge. I absolutely love the wide shots accentuating the high ceilings, creatively breaking the “rule of thirds,” and closeups of the miniature cabin and figurines. By blocking the scenes so that the architectural and interior design lines of the house frame out the characters and locations, our focus is naturally drawn to a particular element in the scene that the camera often lingers on as unsettling music plays. Those lingering moments contribute to the rising tension and create a hyperawareness that assaults our very senses. I love how the feeling of claustrophobia is crafted out of the large houses and wide sweeping landscape of the mountain retreat. So much attention was paid to the stylistic approach to realizing this story for the screen. You could remove all the dialogue, and understand everything that is happening, and exhibit the emotional reaction that the writers and directors intended. That is the mark of superb visual storytelling.

Catholic iconography adorns many of the walls of the the family’s main house as well as the isolated vacation lodge. We spend most of our time in the lodge, but the houses at the beginning of the film also contain much of the same decor. Without need of exposition through dialogue, the various iconography paints an image of a Catholic family that has been split. Tho, we are never given the details of the separation between the father and the mother of his children (played by Alicia Silverstone), infidelity is hinted at because of the father’s girlfriend that he is planning to marry even before his divorce is finalized. It’s this urge to hasten the divorce that nullifies any hope of reconciliation between Richard (the father) and Laura (the first wife), and ultimately drives Laura to respond in a–how should I say–rash and irreversible manner that is seen as the unpardonable sin by the Catholic church. Her decision is like a rock tossed in a still, glass-like pond that is the catalyst for ripples that radiate for hundreds of yards. It’s no secret that divorce is also highly frowned upon by the Catholic church, so the domestic struggles and the fallout therein creates strife within the minds of the family. A disconnect, if you will, between what they believe and what they are experiencing. Interestingly, suicide is never referred to as an unpardonable sin in the Bible, nor is any one sin greater than another. But Jaeden and Mia suffer from the misleading interpretation many leaders in the Catholic church preach to their congregations. The symptoms of trauma exhibited by Aiden and Mia stem from the void that the loss of a parent and the disruption of life often causes. So, the decorations in the houses serve as a contrast to what is going on. And in more ways than one.

The soon to be fiance Grace is left to care for the two children at the family lodge after Richard has to return to the city for work. And she arrives with a lot of religious baggage of her own caused by a destructive cult masquerading around as a form of Christianity that she “escaped” when she was a child. The religious iconography in the lodge ignites a constant barrage of flashbacks to the psychological abuse during her childhood by her father, the leader of the cult that warped the Bible and belief therein for sadistic purposes. These masochistic and sadistic practices included misinterpreting the Bible in such a way that her father engaged in guilting and forcing people into experiencing physical pain and mental anguish over sin in order to be forgiven. Talk about trauma on the mind and soul. In addition to the emotional baggage of her past, Grace is also dealing with the hatred of the children directed towards her in rather sadistic fashion because they blame her for the divorce that led to the sudden death of their mother. We are often predisposed to thinking of step mothers as villains, thanks to Cinderella. But in this case, the tables are turned for much of the film. To talk about just why this is, would get into spoiler territory, and it’s best to go into this movie as blind as possible.

You will be in a suspended state of unease and high tension the entire time. Just when the tension releases, another moment drives it back up again. The horror of this film does not come from the raw imagery but from the psychological games on display that suck you in to vicariously experience the utterly terrifying, mentally scaring conflict displayed on screen. The Lodge is highly disturbing and will continue to haunt you long after the credits role.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Regression” movie review

RegressionIntimately disturbing and suspenseful. Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke star in a film that is one part crime drama and one part supernatural thriller. Inspired by actual cases and claims of growing Satanic cults in the Midwestern part of the country in the late 80s and early 90s, Regression follows one detective’s journey through science, superstition, and organized religion to discover the truth of what happened to a seventeen year old young lady named Angela (Emma Watson) who claimed her father molested her. Opening with the interrogation of her father, Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is confronted with the conundrum of a suspect who does not deny the vomit-inducing allegations, but is greatly struggling to remember what happened. Cool color temperatures, dreary weather, effective acting, and a creepy small town all come together to make creepy psychological thriller of good versus evil.

Occurring at a time that reports of Satanic cults with blood curdling rituals began to hit a high, Regression brings you face to face with now-discredited psychological therapy practices, blood sacrifice, and sexual deviance. Follow detective Bruce Kenner as he attempts to put the puzzle of what actually happened to Angela together in order to solve this perplexing mystery. First approaching this as a disturbing but typical minor molestetion case, Kenner quickly learns that there is much more to this case than meets the eye. As evidence is uncovered and truths are made known, this investigation goes much deeper and crosses public safety and family boundaries.

This is one of those plots that is difficult to analyze without giving away key parts of the mystery. If you enjoy watching films that contain prolific symbolism and question institutions that exist for physical and spiritual protection, then you will undoubtedly find this film, from the Weinstein Company that flew under the radar, intriguing. Although it is definitely a slow burn, it never moves too slowly and does provide enough of a hook to keep you going. Be sure to pay close attention to every line of dialogue because (hind sight being 20/20 and knowing the ending) there are definitely clues dropped here and there that all point to the answers for which Kenner is looking.

The investigation at the core of the plot is three fold: spiritual, scientific, and legal. Bruce Kenner partners with both a local psychology professor and a reverend to uncover what happened to Angela. As one might expect in a movie such as this, the professor and reverend have vastly different approaches to this mystery. For psychology students or professionals watching this film, you will witness the practice of regression as it plays a significant part in the investigation. The aforementioned practice also raises awareness to invasive psychological therapy techniques. As this film technically falls within the horror genre, it is definitely not short on social commentary. With physical evidence in short supply and a suspect who cannot remember what happened, Kenner relies upon the psychological evidence gather by the professor. Little do our investigators know that these aggressive interview techniques play more into the mystery than they could have known.

Ugh. There is so much more about be plot I’d love to analyze but that would take the fun out of watching it and ruin the mystery for you. So switching gears. From a technical perspective, the film is not remarkable in any way. Neither is it lacking in cinematography or direction. However, movies in this sub genre of horror can so often feel and look like a Lifetime original movie, especially because it includes a significant female character who claims to have been molested. Thankfully, director Alejandro Amenabar (The Others) provides audiences with a “Lifetime” plot that is still cinematic enough to avoid the stigma of “another Liferime movie in theatres.” Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke display excellent acting prowess along with a few of the other key players in this narrative. For the most part, the acting is on par with this crime drama. All the filmmaking elements come together nicely to keep your attention for the hour and a half runtime.

If you enjoy mysteries that confront science and religion, then you will definitely enjoy this film. Right now, it is one of the movies included with your Amazon Prime subscription. Rated R for some visual sexual content, it is pretty tame as far as rated R movies go. There is a gritty and real feel to the movie that might be a little too terrifying for some viewers. However, this IS a psychological thriller that contains many of the earmarks of a good horror film.

“Rebirth” web series review

RebirthGritty and visceral. NonHuman Films’ Rebirth is a new web series that will beg for your attention. Pulling out all the cliche stops, and whatever else comes with AfterEffects templates, the prologue and episode I attempt to draw you in; and they are quite successful. The problem is that it is such a train wreck that you cannot look away. Complete with a highly ambiguous plot, choppy editing, and color temps and audio all over the spectrum, Rebirth needs to die and try to come back again another day. Adapted from the original series JacobRebirth is inspired by CreepyPasta and other urban myths. Mostly shot in the POV style, the majority of the cinematography is stylistic. However, not every style needs to leave the think tank at the fashion studio. YouTube and Vimeo present fantastic opportunities for aspiring professional visual storytellers to get films in front of people without having to rely on a distribution company; but because of this wide open door, there is a lot more mediocre content to sort through while searching for that movie with which to fill your weekday evening.

Structurally, the video suffers greatly. A traditional web series should be divided up into short segments that all tie together in an over-arching story. It should not come across as a short film that has been divided up simply by cutting the segments out of the main timeline. Unfortunately, the Prologue and Episode I come across as the latter. It is important for each web series video to follow the three-act structure while the whole series also follows the same. The dialog lacks development much in the same way the characters do. As videos (or film) are a visual medium, it is important for writers to “show, don’t tell;” and the perpetual narration serves as a distraction and occasionally comes across as redundant. For a sloppily produced web series, I’ll give it this: the editing stye is creative. I’m not claiming that it’s edited well by any means; but I can definitely infer the direction the editor was going. It’s sloppy and crude, but there is definitely potential there for horror film editing.

It is not unusual for a series to have a weak opening, although it is perhaps the episode that is the most important to hook the audience, as many will not progress past the first episode. That was certainly the case for me when I watched the then-anticipated Scream Queens on Fox. After the first episode was so painful to watch, I never gave it a second chance. Since web series don’t have near the money or publicity behind them, they more often than not have a difficult time hooking an audience. So, when I was invited as a member of the blogosphere to an early screening of Episode I part II, I went in with an open mind because perhaps it was walking out of the starting gate instead of sprinting. Unfortunately, I am left wondering what happened even after watching it twice. Due to the POV style of shooting and the disorienting music, I had great difficulty in following the story. However, it is certainly macabre and creepy. In many ways, it kind of reminds me of the previews for the Green Room horror movie featuring the accomplished Patrick Stewart, of all people. I cannot help but conclude that NonHuman Films does, albeit a moderately long shot, have a future in horror filmmaking. Just because a series is crudely produced, doesn’t mean that it is devoid of potential. I see the potential, but the company needs to spend more time developing the narrative and polishing the post-production elements.

Perhaps this cult series will find an audience, as so many online video do; but, it will not likely become material picked up by YouTube Red or other outlets for professional online distribution–not in its present form. This is one of those series that clearly has some budding talent behind it; but the leadership of the film series needs to regroup and identify methods to correct the presentation and storytelling.