HEAT VISION

How 'The Lodge' Dismantles Gender and Mental Illness Tropes

The horror film is all about the ways women negate their own feelings in order to be considered pretty, suitable and normal.
'The Lodge'   |   Courtesy of Sundance Institute
The horror film is all about the ways women negate their own feelings in order to be considered pretty, suitable and normal.

[This story contains spoilers for The Lodge.]

Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s The Lodge is about mood, though not strictly relegated to cinematic atmosphere. The story of a woman (Riley Keogh) tasked with caring for her new boyfriend’s two children in a remote mountain lodge is all about the ways women negate their own feelings in order to be considered pretty and suitable. Fiala and Franz tell a story about women’s mental health wrapped up in an examination of religion, relationships, and motherhood that asks, at its heart, how far a woman will go to be seen as “normal.”

Depression hangs around the fringes of The Lodge from its first scene as we meet Laura (Alicia Silverstone). She stands in front of a mirror in her bathroom, looking upset and trying to keep her emotions in check as she prepares to drive her children, Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), to visit their father. As she drives, she looks in the mirror, applying lipstick. Despite her estrangement from her ex, Richard (Richard Armitage), she wants to look attractive to him. Unfortunately, the reunion quickly turns sour as Laura discovers that Richard is going to marry Grace (Keogh), the woman he left Laura for. Richard looks for confirmation from Laura that she's accepting of this new situation, that she’s OK. Laura quickly flashes a smile, then walks away.

Reminiscent of Gone Girl’s “cool girl” speech, The Lodge examines women’s feelings of being labeled crazy. Throughout history, craziness and hysteria have been associated with women, and to undo that stereotype, women are willing to hide whatever they have to, even mental illness. Laura’s heart is broken, her already fragile mental state completely fractured, yet she still wants to present to her husband that she is the kind, obedient wife, giving him a smile and the facade that she’s accepting. Though Richard isn’t unkind in his revelation, he doesn’t give Laura's feelings any consideration, openly lying to her about Grace not being in the house when Laura sees, later, that she is. Richard’s lies are effortless and simple; Laura sublimates her entire emotional core, despite knowing that she no longer has to. Laura eventually settles on killing herself. Her motivation is unclear, though it could be because she sees her inability to save her marriage as the ultimate failure.

Laura’s death transitions the story toward its other female protagonist. Grace comes into the film as a shape to bounce perceptions off of. Her back, walking away, is the audience's and Laura’s first introduction to her, while Aiden and Mia see her obscured by windows. The lone survivor of a suicidal religious cult, Grace is perceived as a prophet by her father’s religion, a “psychopath” by Laura (and, by proxy, Aiden and Mia), and as a fascinating character study by Richard, who wrote about her and the cult in one of his books. Grace is a totem for everyone else’s feelings, with no one noticing, or caring about, hers. When Aiden and Mia finally meet her, as she turns toward them to say hello, she is a quiet, meek woman; her dog, Grady, is the only one who understands her.

But like Laura, Grace also hides her own issues. She’s seen taking pills, and while it’s unclear what they're for, it’s evident she both needs them and feels the need to hide them from Richard. The two women share a commonality in that they believe that Richard cannot, or will not, like them if they are dealing with their own struggles, that if he were to realize they weren’t perfect, the relationship would end. As Richard tells the kids, Grace wants to spend time with them while he is at work, and the audience is unclear whether this is true or not. Grace certainly wants the kids to like her, particularly Aiden, because they will all be a family in the near future. But there’s also an element of testing, that Grace wants Richard to see she can handle children. She hides her feelings about kids like she hides the pills that allow her to cope.

Once Richard leaves, the film's environment begins to mimic Grace’s mental state. The lodge feels confining, with its ceilings always shown. The blustery weather outside creates a depressing vibe to complement Grace's state of mind. Already struggling to deal with the children in her care, she also finds herself drawn to Laura’s religious paraphernalia left inside the house. Not even the lodge itself allows Grace to be an individual, as Richard saw no problem with leaving photos of him and his wife around, as well as other reminders of her.

Various religious objects conjure up images of Grace's relationship with her father and the cult she grew up in. When her pills and personal belongings disappear in the night, along with everything else in the house, Grace is left to ponder what’s happening. Is Laura’s ghost asserting dominance over her last sanctuary and her children? Is Grace being persecuted for losing faith? Or, in the grand tradition of female narratives, is she simply going crazy?

By the film’s conclusion, these questions are open to interpretation. It’s easy to think Grace has been driven mad by Aiden and Mia’s “joke,” having her believe they died and are stuck in purgatory. Or maybe Grace has finally become the prophet her father foresaw her to be, spreading his word again and getting right what she failed to do the first time. Or maybe she has finally let the facade drop and is being her authentic self. Her adherence to religion overtakes her. She uses it to situate herself as the woman she wants to be. Whether it is right or wrong is up to the audience's interpretation, but The Lodge questions how far a woman must be pushed before she finally unleashes what’s always been inside her.

  • Kristen Lopez
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