In the opening scene, Alicia Silverstone, in a darkly realistic and all-too-brief performance, calls out to her daughter while looking into a dollhouse. The effect is beguiling: is her daughter inside the dollhouse? In the next shot, Silverstone plucks an eyebrow—or does something to her eye—at an unflattering angle; it’s a far cry from her primped presence in such 90’s classics as Clueless (1995) or even her deranged but cleanly seductress role in The Crush (1993), and one feels for a moment as though the past were tarnished seeing her here, like a blemished makeup commercial or the mention of her name in the fragmented and seared sonic landscape of “Teenage Riot,” which is not to suggest that Silverstone still isn’t beautiful.
On the car ride to their father’s house, her son pulls off the arm of her daughter’s doll; she smirks. “Luckily this one snaps back in,” she says. When he tries to remove the doll’s head, she draws the line. It’s prophetic scene when one thinks back, yet it gives no indication of how far these soon-to-be traumatized children will go in the psychological torture of another damaged individual.
“I think we should finalize the divorce. Grace and I will be getting married in the fall,” Silverstone’s husband says when preparing her a cup of instant coffee. She rushes off. In the next scene, she’s sipping wine, feeling sorry for herself, and we think: okay, romcom territory? Her sudden subsequent act of suicide, therefore, is as unexpected as it is disturbing for two reasons: firstly, because it’s a Marion-Crane-car-sinking moment, the demise of our assumed protagonist; secondly, because the suicide occurs seemingly without weighty enough provocation, which causes us to pause and consider the deeper level to Silverstone’s damage. There must be further layers of her personality to be peeled back, but we in the complete dark as audience members while the camera pans away from the dead Silverstone and lingers again on the dollhouse. This is a recurring symbol and one cannot help but think of it as a nod to Ibsen’s masterwork.
Black balloons float above a giant cross, another prominent symbol with much darker connotations that will soon be introduced. The daughter tries to float her doll away on a black balloon, the balloon string like a noose, drawing us back again to the persistent theme of icy suicide.
Dolls eat a turkey dinner in a dollhouse. “You left mom for a psychopath,” says one of the kids. And we do soon learn that Grace herself had a traumatic past beyond equal: she was part of a religious cult in which every member committed suicide, their bodies covered in purple silk sheets and mouths duct-tapped and sharpie-d with the word Sinner, except her. She survived. But she should be fine at an isolated cabin for a few days with the kids who blame her for their mother’s suicide, right? The father met her while writing about a book–which ones guesses was a bestseller, judging by his digs–about her cult.
The kids reluctantly agree to spend Christmas at an isolated cabin with her. “That’s our mom’s hat,” the daughter says while iceskating with her shortly after their arrival. Grace gives the hat back, shivering. Then she tries to save the daughters doll on thin ice and ends up falling in, the daughter reaching for the doll and comforting it as the father struggles to pull out Grace from the freezing waters.
But all is not well and all is not mended, and the father will soon leave Grace and his children unattended. When Grace hears a painting of The Virgin Mary begin talking to her, we figure that is probably not a good sign. Nor are the sleepless nights, dreams of cult leaders pulling her under ice, being spied upon in the shower, playing the most disturbing and annoying organ music in the world, whisperings of “repent” and “repent your sins” and the singing of eerie hymns, recurring imagery of the purple silk draped over the children, the food disappearing, suggestions of wandering at night, her pills (antipsychotics would be our guess) taken away, dolls overturned in the dollhouse, dreams about suffocating from a gas heater, and a newspaper containing the obituaries of Grace and the children. “What if we died,” the brother asks. And this hypothesis does indeed seem logical when one reflects upon the hellish half-dream realm they’ve been inhabiting for the bulk of the film’s runtime, a realm either manufactured by the children, Grace, some otherworldly entity, Silverstone’s vengeful ghost, or the humdrum monotone voice of the departed cult leader, impish in his possibly post-coital suggestion of “should we pray now?”
Today is April 29th, 2020, and The Lodge is currently streaming on various VOD services.