The Lodge - A discussion of modern horror (2020) - Spoilers!
The Lodge offers us what The Shining offered viewers in the 70’s: A fresh take on (psychological) horror. Welcome to my discussion on modern horror! - Spoilers included!
Clichés of horror
Most of whom saw The Lodge probably saw a number of different horror movies before. The result is an understanding of established tropes and clichés of the genre, which leads to familiarity. To understand why familiarity is a problem in horror we have to understand how we perceive fear. We fear what we don’t know. We’re thus bored by clichés and loath predictability.
Jump Scares vs. atmosphere
What is a natural response to predictable events? Inserting scary surprises aka “Jump Scares”. Jump Scares are a lazy trick though, because they’re effective only once. They induce short lived tension which is directly resolved and expected upon next time. The real key to effective horror is atmosphere. Atmosphere is great, because it contributes to the whole experience in opposite to a single moment. Fans of the Silent Hill saga will’ve experienced this first hand.
Understanding audiences’ expectations
Back to The Lodge. What is it doing right? We remember that:
- We fear what we don’t know.
- We’re bored by what is expectable.
- We strive for scary atmosphere.
But here’s a new point I hid previously: We enjoy knowing how things go. We actually like to have a predictable outcome. The bad guys being gone. The good guys having won. Audiences want to have their cake and eat it. They want things to be different and familiar at the same time.
You might see a fundamental struggle here. The solution is subverting expectations.
Playing on audiences’ expectations
As a filmmaker you need to understand your audiences’ expectations in order to subvert them.
The successful execution of this concept is what made me gasp, fear and love The Lodge. We fear what we don’t see and expect something to happen. We do know a lot of clichés after all. The movie makes sure to give us a hint of everything:
- We see the menacing glare of the religious portrait and wonder “Did the eyes just move?”.
- We move around the house and fear the pressing darkness of each corner thinking “What is going to jump on us?”.
- There’s an empty room between the bedrooms - Do you remember how the door opened itself and you’ve been waiting to see “something come out of it”?
- Finally, there was a creature sneaking in the house at night. Was it Aidan? Was it Grace? Could there be a demon in the house?
The atmosphere is drenched in questions and mystery. Not knowing what to expect makes us expect everything. As a friend eloquently summarized “The tension was topped by even more tension”.
Implications and consequences
The big twist is that the mysterious events were staged by the kids. Love it, hate it, but consider the implication that made me chew on the movie for days: How terrible can a person be?
The terror of mankind
The ability to feel and share emotions is not a privilege to man alone as it is beneficial to survival of many species. It is the extension of mankind’s reasoning and long-term planning that extends this feature into curse and blessing.
Previous generations and horror movies dwelled on the mysteries of the unknown. The terror of the universe and the idea how scary a mystical creature can be. Growing up and seeing those terrors on screen for a long time made the mystery way too familiar though. The new kind of terror lies in mankind and its capacity to misuse the mutual understanding. Hugely popular projects like Get Out and Black Mirror seem to support this assumption.
The definition of horror thus turns from “How terrible can a mystical creature be?” to “How terrible can human beings be to each other?”. From “What terror lies in the world” to “What terror lies inside of us”.
The terrors of Aidan and Mia
Consider this for a moment: A pair of kids tortured an innocent, traumatized woman until she went crazy.
I’ll repeat it again, to let it sink in: A pair of kids tortured an innocent, traumatized woman until she went crazy.
They didn’t intervene when Grace finally broke and mutilated herself.
They let her dog, companion and grasp to sanity willingly die. They also, but not only:
- Wrote “Mom <3” on the glass and got away by sneaky and sociopathic.
- Let “REPENT” appear on a mirror by applying razor foam to glass, because it prevents the covered area from sweating.
- Made a ton of snow angels after inconspicuously associating the angels with their deceased mother.
- And finally “hung” Aidan to give her the rest. I’ve no idea how they played this trick at the moment.
All this while denying her medication. That cleverly makes her an untrustable narrator and leaves us to wonder what’s real. We as the viewer are lost just like Grace is.
The ice breaker
Grace breaking into the ice is a foreshadow of the events to come. It’s a demonstration of how much Aidan and Mia hate and despise their future stepmom. They naturally wouldn’t mind if Grace was seriously harmed or died. All that matters is venging the one who “took away their mother”.
“She’s a psycho!” - The crow calls the raven black
You might remember that the kids once accused their dad of marrying “a psycho”. I think this is highly ironic considering the wicked games they played with Grace.
We know that humans are capable of lying, deceiving and torturing, but
- .. who else believed that Aidan and Mia were genuinely shocked when their belongings disappeared?
- .. who else thought that Aidan was genuinely surprised when Grace confronted him about spying on her?
- .. who would assume that a couple of 14 (?) year old’s would torture an innocent, traumatized woman?
I would assume this a rather unnatural behavior for kids.
Aidan’s indications of Antisocial Personality Disorder
Consider the WHOs characteristics of dissocial personality disorder.
It is characterized by at least 3 of the following:
- Callous unconcern for the feelings of others;
- Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules, and obligations;
- Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them;
- Very low tolerance to frustration and a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence;
- Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment;
- Marked readiness to blame others or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.
Consider what we know about Aidan: Aidan barely displayed any kinds emotions during the whole movie.
- He didn’t shed a single tear during and after the funeral of their mother.
- He didn’t flinch when Grady died.
- He was totally detached towards Grace and her self-mutilation.
- He stayed absolutely calm as he was faced with certain death.
I think that Aidan’s behaviour can be interpreted as signs of Antisocial Personality Disorder.
“So, is Aidan a ‘psychopath’ or a ‘sociopath’”?
I think assigning him in one of those categories is not possible since we
- don’t see him interact with people outside his family
- don’t have much information how things were before the divorce
- have no information upon family history (except for his mother’s suicide)
- Also: I’m not a psychologist :P
The extent and use of these terms are disputed among professionals anyways.
I never saw closing credits as stiff and motionless as I did during The Lodge (partly because of the sinister, huge and haunting score).
The Lodge is an instant classic of modern horror - an immersive experience that builds and excels on worn out horror tropes. It not only assumes, but finally acknowledges you the viewer to be smart.
Don’t forget to take my word with a grain of salt and keep in mind that I haven’t touched upon everything yet. Thank you to the cast and crew for making this movie happen - This is what horror should be like!
Further notes: Pacing
I really enjoyed the pacing and structure of the movie. Our point of view is determined by the characters we follow and implies different perceptions as well as information available.
- We start with the kids’ perspective and observe Grace as an unperceivable shadow (we see her through windows only).
- We switch to Grace when she breaks into the ice.
- Graces dog Grady (a reference to The Shining) is her symbol of a new life. His death is the end of her sanity and our return to the kids’ perspective.
A self-fulfilling prophecy
We are confirmed that Grace is a warm hearted, good person. She is (most likely) not to blame for the suicide of Laura. Aidan and Mia strongly disagree. They blame Grace for the death of her mother and project the root of their pain on her.
Their revenge is a self-fulfilling prophecy though. As their scheme escalates, Grace loses herself and then literally brings pain to the family. Their disturbed perception turns into reality.
In case you didn’t notice: The puppet house scenes were a visualization of the plan.
- Clichés of horror
- Understanding audiences’ expectations
- The terror of mankind
- “She’s a psycho!” - The crow calls the raven black