The Lodge (2019) + House (1977): Stepmoms and Haunted Spaces

Wow, it’s been quite a time. Considering the current social climate, I have found some solace in watching stuff. Of course, it’s also near impossible to ignore the present circumstances of living in imposed quarantine and social distancing. So as I, the Willenial, return to my Stuff We’ve Seen duties, I ask: why not both? The horror films Hausu (House) and The Lodge seem pretty similar on the surface, but were they? Let’s see how they fared!

Warning: Major spoilers for both films will be discussed here.

The Lodge Plot

How many crosses can you count in this poster?

Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (Goodnight Mommy) team up again to bring a story about a family in turmoil. Following the sudden suicide of their mother, Aiden and Mia (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) grieve while their father, Richard (Richard Armitage), intends to marry his young girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). They plan to spend Christmas at a lakeside lodge in the country to solidify the bond between Grace and the kids. However, the siblings quickly learn of Grace’s past, as she’s the survivor of a religious death cult ceremony.

Upon arrival at the lodge, things between Grace and the kids appear to be tame; they watch movies together, go ice skating, and try to connect. Richard is suddenly called away to work. Despite his reluctance, Grace is persistent in her desire to hang out with her soon-to-be step-children. Eerie happenings begin to take hold of the lodge and the three are stranded due to a snowstorm. Paranoia, isolation, and fear grip the trio and sets up the second and third acts of the film.

Cinematography and Iconography

Is this overt enough for you?

Based on how the film is shot, I was immediately reminded of Ari Aster‘s films, Hereditary and Midsommar. While I could hark on the film’s similarities regarding familial discord, or even the overt comparisons of cultish events and usage of dollhouses, I thought both Hereditary and The Lodge were shot in a similar fashion.

The use of extreme high-angle and oblique angle shots gives the film its necessary “creep” factor enough to make viewers uncomfortable and aware that things are not what they seem. The directors also use some of their trademarks from their film, Goodnight Mommy: lots of natural light, using architecture to create ominous shadows, and the use of the aforementioned shots.

In regards to Midsommar, as previously discussed in my review of that film, Aster uses murals to visually inform the audience of looming danger. The Lodge uses this same technique with constant uses of Christian iconography (hands praying, crucifixes, etc). Coupled with harsh darkened settings, the cinematography implies the ticking time bomb that Grace could become. In multiple scenes, we see crosses via shadows, bisecting lines, or more overt symbolism like the scar on Grace’s hand.

Both of these concepts are strengths of the this film. However, it is hard to ignore the unfortunate twist and problematic third act.

An Elaborate Hoax

As one might imagine, it is traumatizing going through the loss of a parent or loved one. For Mia and Aiden, they feel right away that their father rushed into this new relationship with Grace. Richard did not grieve with his children (or at least it’s implied). This sets up the big reveal and twist in the end. Aiden and Grace’s relationship is not a good one. There is a built-up distrust. So, the kids create an elaborate plot to convince Grace that she, Aiden, and Mia are all dead.

One morning, Grace wakes up to find that her pills, and most of their belongings, are missing. Grace is frantic as she is desperate to not relive her trauma and regress to her former self. Aiden claims that she is constantly walking in her sleep at night (which ends up being true). There are several scenes of Grace wandering around the house and she experiences some haunting phenomena. However, this only serves to distract us from the truth.

The kids feign ignorance and help her look while also playing their part. I say this because upon the disappearance and death of Grace’s dog, Mia breaks down and spills the beans: Mia and Aiden conned Grace completely. The kids then attempt to atone for their prank by describing everything they’ve done and retrieve all of their belongings from the basement. However, by that time, the damage has already been done; Grace is fully convinced that she must repent for her past (and soon-to-be present) sins, as if they are all floating in purgatory.

Mia’s breaking point seeing the dead dog was the moment that I began to question not only the children’s antics, but also the message of the film.

The Responsibility of Grief

From the get-go, Aiden articulates his disdain for Grace. Upon their mother’s death, on more than one occasion, each child blames Grace for it. The audience can see the clear cause and effect when Richard tells his wife he wants to finalize the divorce so he can marry Grace, leading to the mother’s suicide. However, we can also acknowledge the logical issue here. The children have preconceived notions of Grace, so it’s easy for them to fixate their blame and ire toward her.

For the first two acts, we are seeing the film through the kids’ perspective. By the third act, we are almost solely focusing on Grace’s point-of-view, suggesting that we should be taking into effect the toll that this prank has taken on her. It also could suggest that we, as the audience, should shift the blame back toward the kids, which would certainly be a power move on behalf of the writer-directors.

So this is my personal quandary with the film: what is it really they are trying to say? Are kids not emotionally ready to deal with grief? Is the film talking about the damage that needless blame has on a relationship? Children will always have a complicated relationship with grief, that much is true. People, in general, tend to shift blame away from themselves in times of crisis because it might make them feel better (alternatively, they might only blame themselves for their problems). The characters experience both in the film, but because we call their motives into question, it negates the payoff of the third act. And, in a way, we want to blame the kids more than Grace.

Final Takeaway

This film was hyped up for me very early on based on some reviews scant on details about it’s twist. I had to watch it when I saw it was streaming on Hulu. I don’t feel as though I regretted it, but it certainly did not meet the expectations I had established for myself. It did everything right in terms of building suspense, allowing the viewer to feel the dread, falling for the red herrings, etc. The twist, however, broke it.

And for that, I blame Grace too.

(Just kidding.)

House (1977)

Meow.

Hilariously enough, I originally picked to review these films together and did not fully realizing how similar they are. House is an absolute trip, one that I did not realize I was ready for.

Plot

Nobuhiko Obayashi’s film follows the story of Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami), a young Japanese school girl who takes her six best friends from school to her long-lost Aunt’s countryside home during summer vacation. Even though Gorgeous and her Aunt have only ever met once, she longs for Gorgeous’ return. She then beckons Gorgeous to her home vicariously through her iconic cat, Blanche. When they arrive, however, not all is well.

Much like The Lodge, the girls’ arrival triggers a series of haunting events: disappearances, murders, and most uncouth…uh, happenings.

Hiroshima and an Unfortunate End

At Jim’s request, I took a gander at the video essay featured on my Criterion copy of House, entitled “Constructing a ‘House.'” Within it, there are interviews with director Obayashi, his daughter, Chigumi Obayashi, and screenwriter Chiho Katsura from 2010. As always, Jim’s advice was sound. The video really highlighted the aspects of the film I would have missed on my initial viewing.

In part of his interview, Obayashi discusses the relevance of Gorgeous’ Aunt’s ire toward the girls. In actuality, Auntie died years ago, but her spirit lives on and haunts the house she once inhabited. When Gorgeous and her friends come to stay, this vengeful spirit murders them one by one, fueled by her anger for having never reconnected with her long-lost lover.

Obayashi explains that the spirit’s hostility comes from her bitterness toward the war, as she always believed that her partner would return from battle. This anger and resentment manifests itself as a vengeful spirit, preying on the unwed mortal women who visit her mansion. So, like any successful monster movie, the spirit, and the house it inhabits, actually means something. This also comes from Obayashi’s childhood because he was born in Hiroshima and he lost countless friends and loved ones following the US atomic bombing.

Flawed Characters

One of my favorite aspects of this film is the naming of the protagonist female characters. We have:

  • Gorgeous – known for her beauty and vanity.
  • Mac – short for “stomach,” she is seen eating, talking about food, or getting eaten in every scene.
  • Kung-Fu – a girl always working on her fighting technique.
  • Prof – the archetypal “genius” of the group (featuring her on-brand nerdy glasses).
  • Melody – a young musician enamored by the Aunt’s piano.
  • Sweet – just a really nice girl who’s always willing to help out.
  • Fantasy – a daydreamer who’s belief in the fantastical gets her into trouble.

Almost like a classic Star Trekkian “Red Shirt,” the names of these characters give us an idea of their personalities while also informing us of their flaws. Without going into painstaking detail, watching the unique and iconic ways these characters be consumed by the house is entertaining (in a weird way that almost makes the audience feel complicit in their demise). Their flaws are so rooted that they are completely blind to the dangers of the house, rendering us just as helpless. The complicity comes from the fact that we know right away how they are going to die, but not when. Until those moments arrive, we cannot look away for a second. Just as Obayashi felt haunted and resentful from the bombing of his home city, the girls are helpless in their escape attempts from the house that wants them dead.

You’ll never experience watermelons the same way again and I am sorry about that.

Final Takeaway

I was previously informed of the campy and comedic insanity of House, so I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. Even so, this movie astonished me. It is ridiculous, funny, unsettling, and yet profound. There are moments where I feel like I’m watching a classic like The House on Haunted Hill, and then there’s a tonal shift akin to Gilligan’s Island. And yet, I did not want to stop watching.

Obayashi’s struggle following the bombing of Hiroshima heavily influenced his life and career as a filmmaker. Just when you think the film can’t get more ridiculous and cartoonish, it one-ups itself. It’s amazing what a childlike sense of wonder can do to inform a horror film to make it truly foreboding. Hausu achieves just that.

These Films Together

These films could not be more different, by way of plot and tone, but they attempt to tackle similar concepts. Aiden and Mia have strong reservations about having a new maternal figure in their lives. Gorgeous escapes her Aunt’s home because her father, also a widower, has a new partner he intends to marry. The aftermath in each film is presented very differently, but how they got there is the same: the children all made the same mistake of trying to run away from unavoidable change.

I watched the films in the same order that I have presented here. If you’re looking to do the same, I would be curious to see how one affects the other going in the opposite order.

Thanks for reading and I hope to be a bit more present here in the coming weeks with Jim and Teal!

-The Willenial

Tell us what you think: