Posted on March 9, 2020

The Lodge and the Cyclical Nature of Trauma

Guest Post

Severin Fiala and Veronik Franz’s The Lodge (2019) has been praised as one of the best horror films of 2020. Somehow, it still feels like it fell through the cracks.

Given the spectacular failure of The Turning (2020), it’s no surprise that a horror film featuring a woman and two children in isolation would be passed over. However, The Lodge is a gripping, slow-burn horror that pays homage to The Shining (1980), The Thing (1982), and Hereditary (2018), while also artfully creating its own space within the genre. One of the most innovative aspects of the film is its focus on the importance of understanding and respecting traumatic experiences.

Check out the trailer for The Lodge:

The Lodge has a simple premise. A new, soon-to-be stepmother, Grace (Riley Keough) takes a trip to an isolated cabin with her fiancé (Richard) and his children. When Richard (Richard Armitage) is called away, she is left alone with the children. In the cold and isolating snow, reality and illusion begin to blur and soon the new stepmother finds herself confronted by old horrors.

Grace confronts her isolation in the bleak and snowy landscape

We’ve seen this story before. The Innocents (1961) and The Others (2001) come to mind as potential comparisons. However, The Lodge creates its own spin by revealing Grace as a former cult-member and the sole survivor of a mass suicide similar to Heaven’s Gate and Jonestown. Not only is she the only surviving member of the cult she is the one who was left behind to document the group members’ deaths. Her fiancé, the children, and even her dog function as ways for her to move away from her traumatic past and toward a life in a stable, normal family.

*Major Spoilers Ahead*

Unfortunately, the children have no plans to invite Grace into their lives.

As soon as Grace is introduced to the children, Aiden (Jaeden Martell) says to his father, “You left mom for a psychopath.” Shortly after this exchange, we learn about Grace’s past. The children research her, find video of her cult’s mass suicide, and begin plotting against her inclusion in their family. Every one of their schemes relies on the exploitation of Grace’s trauma.

The children, Aiden and Mia, research Grace’s past

The children are relentless in their disregard for Grace. They write “Repent” on her bathroom mirror in the hopes of triggering her father’s religious zealotry; they steal her things, rearrange the house when she sleeps; and they keep their own role in all of these events secret. In fact, they use her own willingness to be vulnerable against her. When Grace tells Mia (Lia McHugh) that she got her dog as a way of starting over, the kids let the dog loose during a blizzard and it freezes to death. By the end of the film’s second act, they have convinced Grace that they are stuck in purgatory and that she is, somehow, being punished for not dying in the cult’s mass suicide.

Each of these acts represents the children as unwilling to empathize, unwilling even to try to understand the depths of Grace’s past traumatic experiences. Instead, they continually return to her past in order to provoke mental instability and fear in her. And their exploitation works. Grace’s sanity breaks and she believes the lie that the children created.

Grace’s sense of reality frays

Then The Lodge goes further into what it means to ignore and exploit a person’s trauma by taking a largely untraveled road. Instead of breaking or giving in to the children, Grace reasserts her traumatic past in the present by replicating the conditions of the cult and forcing the children to suffer as she suffered.

Like her father before her, Grace begins preaching to the children about the importance of sacrificing something to God. When they refuse, she burns Mia’s doll, which has acted as the girl’s stand-in for her mother. Even the children’s father cannot pull her from her psychotic break. The children’s gaslighting leads Grace to believe that they cannot die and she shoots and kills the children’s father to prove it.

At the end of the film, the family is reunited at the dinner table. Grace wraps duct-tape with “sin” written on it over the children’s mouths as she contemplates the remaining bullets in the gun. The children have swapped positions with Grace and now are themselves subject to fear and emotional pain. By forcing them to witness their father’s death and taping their mouths, Grace has replicated her past and subjected the children to her suffering.

By ending the film in this way, The Lodge impresses on the viewer the importance of empathy and shared understanding around trauma. The children only learn of Grace’s past to exploit her fears and, in doing so, avoid comprehending the depths of her pain and its impact on her mental state. Moreover, the children are subjected to their own trauma through their mother’s suicide. Yet, they ignore their shared loss in favor of torturing Grace. By ignoring opportunities for empathy, the children create a cycle of trauma that eventually compounds their own loss and leaves them unable to defend themselves from Grace’s mental instability. 

Like Hereditary, The VVitch (2015), Midsommar (2019), and The Lighthouse (2019), The Lodge is a perfect example of the depths of slow burn horror. It also sends a powerful message about the importance of empathy, grief, and remorse. It boldly reminds us that exploiting someone else’s pain only leads to a cycle of suffering.

The Lodge is in limited theatrical release as of March 7, 2020.

See our Short Cut on Severin Fiala and Veronik Franz’s Goodnight Mommy (2014).


Ethan Robles is a writer, scholar, and higher education professional. His creative, editorial, and critical work centers around horror fiction and film. Currently, he is editing a scholarly collection about young adult horror television and film as well as writing film reviews for

Ethan has written for Horror Homeroom on Black Summer and zombie minimalismGerald’s Game, Hulu’s original series, “Castle Rock,” Annihilation, and horror documentaries. Check out his list of the top 10 episodes of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”  and read his interview with horror writer Paul Tremblay. You can follow him on Twitter @Roblecop and on Instagram @Robo_gramm.

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