Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Children Shouldn't Play With Crazy Things

There's an exchange in Frank Darabont's film The Mist where two characters trapped in a supermarket at the end of the world discuss whether having faith in humanity's inherent goodness is wise or whether, once the lights go out and you frighten everybody bad enough, they'll revert to caveman brain. The Mist comes down, and it comes down hard, on the side of post-apocalyptic misanthropy, and now it's got a good bad-time buddy in Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala's traumatically delicious The Lodge (their follow-up to the glorious Goodnight Mommy), out in theaters this weekend.

We don't meet our main character of Grace (Riley Keough) until a good fifteen minutes into The Lodge, instead spending our set-up with her presumptive family-to-be -- psychotherapist Richard (Richard Armitage) with his teenaged boy Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and approximate tween Mia (Lia McHugh) -- as they deal with the dissolution of their previous familial arrangement, leaving their depressed Mom (Alicia Silverstone) in the dust. And it won't be the first time this film leaves its sense of Grace delayed, let's leave it at that.

Keough haunts these early scenes, though -- the back of her head exiting a garden here, a milky figure wavering behind frosted glass there -- more of a spectre than a person. And as the film does eventually close in on her, staring hard in the face of Grace and her terrible past, marking her terrible future, her ghostliness becomes inescapable -- her attempts at finding form, at finding a sane place in the world where she can define herself outside of all her traumas, rattle like sand on an earthquake surface. Everything disassembles.

For anyone who was raised under the smothering blankets of someone else's absolute beliefs in something that is ultimately unknowable -- Grace turns out is the single surviving deprogramee of a messianic death cult (not much of a spoiler as we learn this relatively early in the film) -- the fear that that deep programming of your childhood is always there with you, a monster suit forever at your side for the easy slipping into, is a profound one. When the world goes dark, when the phones cut off and the apocalypse presents itself, waving howdy doo disaster, how will you find yourself? Is there any piece of you standing on firm ground, or are you simply a pile of behaviors in the place of a center, ones that will slip with the slightest nudge?

The Lodge, a feel bad classic in the making, digs up some terribly sad answers to these questions as it traps this Family 2.0 in a blizzard-blasted nowhere, forcing them to face their empty faces, a series of mirrors set up in the snow. Insidious resentments snake around in the cold slush of this place, a series of un-maskings that keep stripping reality down through flesh to off-white exposed bone. Colorless brine shrimp, as big as lobsters, bat against plastic bags, unwitting props in an opera of morbid dissolution, disillusionment. It hurts until it doesn't, and then it hurts some more.

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