The Lodge: yet another horror movie boasting a premise strong with thematic underpinning, left largely unexplored.
Though the surface meaning of the title pertains to the story’s primary setting, where most of the action transpires and subsequently spirals out of control, it ultimately speaks to the aforementioned theme: how corrosively-extremist religious beliefs remain lodged in the psyches of indoctrinated youth forever, irreparably warping their worldview and their tenuous grip on reality. Even after the formerly-pious escape to secularism, their foundational ideology may be lying in wait, perhaps the reason the score’s main melody — which accompanies the opening credits — sounds like a ticking time-bomb.
The three lead characters — the two kids and Riley Keough — were all reared in mercilessly Christian households. The expository Internet news clips of Keogh’s disturbing upbringing showcase as much, and Alicia Silverstone’s early cameo as the children’s mother immediately establishes how her offspring inherited her religiosity; the daughter breaks down over her mom’s denial from heaven, and Lieberher/Martel dons a cross throughout.
Neither of these infant indicators are necessarily alarming, and Keough seems to have grown past her troubled start. But the shots of the dollhouse which begin the movie — and which we return to again and again — key us into the real legacy of their Christian learning: they view existence through the prism of a God complex. Subscribing to the notion that there’s an ordered structure to life, one lorded over by, well, the lord, can inspire the devout — not all, but some — to see other people as mere puppets to be puppeteered to exact righteous vengeance.
Humans are dolls, our mortal coil is the dollhouse, and through the “clarity” provided by doctrine, we “toys” can act as the hands of God, forcing repentance upon perceived sinners. Jesus normalizes suffering, and if this plane of being is merely a trial to gain entry to the next, then why not treat it like a game, with innocents as unwitting players?
That’s precisely what the young’uns do to Keough; they’re the stewards of God’s holy justice against the damned, dictating their pawn’s reality. And as someone weaned on interpreting her surroundings as evidence of a higher plan, Keough all too easily slips back into her old creed. When that sort of untethered dogmatic flame is lit, everyone burns, figuratively and literally.
The idea of orthodox nut-jobs stranded in a cabin (sorry: a lodge) where their conflicting yet connected faith feeds off each other, an allegory for the perils of groupthink, echo chambers, group polarization, etc. — now that’s a movie I want to watch…if it actively and consistently delves into the depths of religious psychology. Unfortunately, The Lodge dodges this potential substance, consumed instead by the usual “WHAT FUCKED UP SHIT IS GOING ON HERE?!?!?!”