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'The Lodge' review: Flashy visuals can't overcome incoherent plotting

Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh in "The

Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh in "The Lodge." Credit: TNS/Hammer Films/Bertrand Calmeau

PLOT A woman spends a few days alone with her boyfriend's children in a remote New England home and horrific things happen.

CAST Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage

RATED R (disturbing violence, some bloody images, language and brief nudity)

LENGTH 1:48

PLAYING AT Raceway 10, Westbury and Stony Brook 17

BOTTOM LINE There's an atmosphere of genuine dread but the screenplay makes way too many illogical choices for the movie to work.

"The Lodge" aspires to membership in that elite club of horror movies that manage to be both scary on the most basic level and provocative in terms of what they have to say about human frailty.

This is not easy to pull off, no matter the impression left by success stories such as "The Shining," or "The Babadook" or "Hereditary," among others over the decades. Even amid something of an ongoing horror renaissance in recent years, few movies have successfully fused an expert grasp of the basic functions of the genre with actual, lasting ideas.

Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala get close to reaching those rarefied heights at times throughout "The Lodge," only for the narrative to lapse into utter incoherence.

It's frustrating to see a movie that's so committed to shaping a haunted aesthetic, with chiaroscuro lighting effects and foreboding snowbound landscapes mirroring the trauma that's deeply embedded in the characters, that nonetheless loses touch with any hint of storytelling logic.

The picture stars Riley Keough as Grace, the sole survivor of a religious cult's mass suicide as a child. She has begun a relationship with Richard (Richard Armitage), whose children Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) have been devastated by the suicide of their mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone), who kills herself after Richard leaves her for Grace.

That's the emotionally fraught backdrop against which Richard makes one of the worst decisions in the history of movie parenthood, determining it to be a good idea for Grace, Aiden and Mia to get to know each other by spending some time together alone in the family's remote cabin somewhere in New England, in the middle of the winter and without a car.

The way the movie sets this up stands as the first giant red flag that something is amiss with the screenplay, which Franz and Fiala co-wrote with Sergio Casci. But it's possible to just accept Richard as a clueless dolt and go with it. Once Grace, Aiden and Mia are alone, however, the story starts to really come off the rails.

It's never less than beautifully rendered — the cinematography makes extraordinarily effective use of the low winter light and the creepy empty spaces to build an atmosphere of painstaking dread. When Grace loses her pills and begins to come undone, succumbing to haunting, surreal nightmares, the filmmakers effectively find their way into her damaged conscience. Keough, Martell and McHugh are collectively terrific, navigating this difficult and dark territory with keen emotional intelligence.

But this all needs to add up to something more than flashy visuals and fully invested performances. And despite overtures toward invoking religious guilt and the specter of the supernatural, the movie is never sure of what it's saying or how it wants us to feel. And by the time the third act rolls around, it stops making any sense at all.

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