Recently, the stigma surrounding mental illness has begun to be dismantled, as those brave enough to share their stories open up the door to much-needed discussion. Several films and television series are portraying characters that are suffering from various mental illnesses in a proper light, and this normalization of mental illness on screen is vital, especially for young people to see that they are not alone in what they are going through and that their experiences are valid. Unfortunately, mental illness is not always accurately depicted and can be damaging if handled incorrectly, as some outlets choose to twist mental illness purely for shock value. The horror genre especially still relies on spinning this narrative that those with mental illness are a danger to others by emphasizing certain stereotypes.
**This article contains plot spoilers for The Lodge, we suggest watching the film (available on HULU/VOD) before reading further**
The Lodge, a psychological horror from filmmaking duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala follows Grace Marshall (Riley Keough), who is left alone to bond with her fiancé’s children, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia Hall (Lia McHugh) at their family’s remote Massachusetts lodge after they had just tragically lost their mother, Laura Hall, (Alicia Silverstone) to suicide. When things at the lodge start to go awry and the three find themselves trapped during a snowstorm, the horrors of Grace’s past resurface and result in unintended consequences.
“Is she gonna be there?” Mia asks her mother with disdain at the start of the film, our first hint at Grace’s unwanted existence in this family, especially with Richard Hall’s (Richard Armitage) children. Mia and Aidan not only see Grace as the woman who tore their parents’ marriage apart but eventually the cause for their mother’s untimely demise. We can’t see Grace during the beginning of the film, we only see her silhouette in the window, or a fleeting glimpse of her as she exits Richard’s house, her identity yet to be revealed to the audience. The choice to keep Grace shrouded in mystery is intentional, as it builds tension.
“Who is this sinister creature?” we are left to wonder as our imaginations begin to get the better of us, like in any horror movie when the monster is yet to be revealed and has simply been hiding in the shadows up until then. Grace is initially treated as if she is an apparition haunting their lives rather than a living being. Aidan calls her a “psychopath” a term for a disorder that is so flippantly thrown around without even giving it a second thought because it has become synonymous with “crazy.” They are implying she is crazy because she survived a gruesome childhood because she fought her way out of her own trauma that they cannot understand. The children research what happened to her in the past as if gathering information on her weaknesses, to study her rather than try to see who she actually is apart from this. Instead, they want to learn how to exorcise her from their family for good. The film does this because they want her to be scary, which is exactly the issue: people coping with mental illnesses should not be seen as scary nor should their mental illnesses be seen as a weapon against others.
When we are finally introduced to Grace, it is quite anticlimactic. Richard convinces Aidan and Mia to spend Christmas at their family lodge with him and Grace, pleading with them to give Grace a chance. As the children prepare to depart and they pack their things, the ominous music begins to pick up until all goes silent as they drive to get Grace. We are left to sit with them and wait in the car as Grace slowly approaches, the ice on the car window still shielding her from view. Richard loads her luggage into the car and she finally opens the passenger side door and sits, initially facing forward. Just before she turns we are left expecting the worst, as that is how the film has set her up, like her very existence is but a folklore. Surely, the big reveal will show that she has the pitch-black eyes of a demon, or sharp fangs and claws, any imagery that can be conjured up after years of consuming horror films. But when she turns, we instead see a timid woman with kind eyes and a slight, hesitant smile that shows just how nervous she is to meet her fiancé’s children. “Hi, Aidan. Hi, Mia,” she says politely as she cuddles her dog, seemingly her only friend. At last, we see her for who she truly is, and who she is is a woman trying her best despite what she has gone through.
The film could have used this to its advantage. It had the opportunity to subvert the idea that people with mental illness are dangerous, but instead, it seemed to be preaching the exact opposite. The Lodge is wholly focused on Grace’s childhood trauma, so much so that by the end of the film we hardly know anything about Grace separate from the events of her past and even that is hardly explored in depth. People are more than their mental illness or their past trauma. For this film to make it seem like Grace cannot be separated from her past, in order to further perpetuate the idea that people who have been through trauma are unhinged, is wrong. There is no room for healing in this film; Grace became the monster that everyone believed her to be because that is how she had been treated.
This is not to say that Grace is a perfect person, we hardly know who she is, but it was obvious she was trying to not let her past define her. Grace must have sought help to work through her trauma, as she was taking prescription medication that seemed to help her. As children, especially young grieving children, Aidan and Mia have every right to mourn the loss of their mother and to even be angry at their father and Grace. However, in no way does that excuse the dredging up her past in order to undo years of coping with what happened to her. On top of this, instead of siding with Grace, the film seems to conclude at the end that Grace was indeed destined to snap and that it was Richard’s fault for leaving his children alone and unmonitored with a “psychopath.” It is almost like we are expected to think, “see, she was crazy all along. Obviously, someone who did what she did could never live a normal life,” as the end credits roll.
The Lodge treats Grace’s character with an all too familiar sense of cruelty and misunderstanding that so many people with mental illness are used to. This film is certainly not the first to misuse mental illness and trauma for the sake of its plot and it will not be the last, but that does not make it right, especially during these times when people are being more open with their own experiences with mental illness and seeking help to try and break down these horrible stigmas.