Tag: jaeden martell

The Lodge


The Lodge (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’ “The Lodge” is an excellent example of a movie so reliant on a third act twist that if one were observant enough to see through the fog and recognize red herrings—which isn’t difficult to do—the rest becomes a waiting game. I appreciated the intent: the goal is to tell a story, through the lens of psychological horror, about unresolved trauma and how it can ruin new chapters of its hosts’ lives even before they begin. In order for this to work, however, the screenplay must function both as a drama and a horror picture. It fails to excel in either category which leaves us an experience that is, for the most part, a slog to sit through.

It lays out the pieces in a clear and precise manner. Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) are still in mourning due to the death of their mother (Alicia Silverstone). She had committed suicide after receiving news that her husband, Richard (Richard Armitage), wishes to marry his girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough), former member and sole survivor of a Christian cult that committed mass suicide. Already there are parallel details worth noting. Six months after the mother’s death, and just in time for Christmas (of course), the siblings and their soon-to-be stepmother will spend time in a remote winter cabin in order to get to know one another better. (Richard has to leave for a couple of days due to work.) The children despise the new woman in their lives because they blame her for their mother’s death, and the girlfriend is… a bit off even though she is willing to try to make it work between her and the kids.

As the material busies itself with presenting pieces of the puzzle that will prove to be relevant later, I felt no drama emanating from the material. Sure, it’s sad that Aidan and Mia must learn to live without their mother, but the work fails to provide reasons why these two are interesting together or apart. They are not only given so little dialogue, they are left with little to do. I felt as though their anger is superficial and so when Aidan and/or Mia lash out at Grace, in subtle or overt manner, the whole thing comes across like a performance. The notes of action and reaction are present but not the music, if you will.

The same applies to Grace. For a woman who has endured so much physically and psychologically, this survivor is rather bland. Is she meant to be a shell of a person? It is not enough to show one online article of a terrible cult; we must have an appreciation of this particular group through the perspective of the one who lived to tell the tale. (Richard wrote a book about her experiences.) Keough attempts to wring out every drop of emotion in each scene—which is admirable—but I never believed the history of her character. We’re supposed to buy into it, I guess, because she’s a pill popper. By the third trip to the bedroom drawer because she finds it so stressful to interact with her future stepchildren, I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit—not because it is funny but because it is offensively reductive. What does Richard see in her?

Expect no scares; the approach is a slow descent to madness. Expect long takes. Expect plenty of shots of creepy portraits, ugly dolls, and large crucifixes. Expect silence, dim lighting, minimal score. A whole lot of snow. And shivering. Oh, John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is on TV at one point. It made me wish I were watching that terrific, exciting, horrifying movie instead.

Eventually, we are meant to question what’s real and isn’t, who to trust and who to suspect; what is happening and to whom. I was able to predict every step, but I enjoyed the snowy milieu and the feelings of isolation it invokes. The work is so atmospheric but little else to offer. At least it has the courage to end on a dark note. But even then I still felt there is no powerful punchline. Of course it had to happen; trauma and history repeating itself and all that.

Low Tide


Low Tide (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

“Low Tide,” debut film of writer-director Kevin McMullin, brings to mind coming-of-age pictures from the ‘80s, especially in how it captures the look and feel of living in a seaside vacation spot, but it lacks the necessary human depth for it to be truly compelling and memorable. This is particularly strange because the lead actors, Jaeden Martell and Keean Johnson who play brothers, Peter and Alan, left to fend for themselves while their father is away for work, possess the ability to deliver convincing dramatic performances. The screenplay is not written deeply enough in order for these actors to be able to create subjects worthy of further exploration.

It begins as a story of three seemingly close friends (Johnson, Daniel Zolghadri, Alex Neustaedter) who break into people’s vacation homes to steal drugs, booze, and various items they could sell for petty cash. We watch them hang out at the boardwalk, scout for girls, get high, and pick fights with Bennys—a nickname they give to summer tourists. Meanwhile, a local cop, Sergeant Kent (Shea Whigham), suspects them as the ones responsible for the recent break-ins. He did not have a single evidence… until one of the teenagers ends up leaving a shoe at a crime scene. The boys’ relationship is tested and at one point we are meant to.wonder whether what they shared was friendship at all. Perhaps it simply a case of birds of a feather.

The plot also involves finding a dead man’s gold coins, but I think this is less interesting than the relationship between two brothers who look, sound, and act so differently when placed side-by-side, it takes a bit of persuasion to buy into the fact they are related at all. These highly valued coins is but a conduit to Peter and Alan coming together and admitting to one another that they are tired of being poor. And so their most recent asset must be protected at all cost. It is disappointing then that the writing fails to establish their desperation—how much each of them is willing to sacrifice—out of fear that one or both may come across as too unlikable.

There is sweet subplot involving Alan and an out-of-towner named Mary (Kristine Froseth). Although the cuteness of their chance meeting and going out on dates does not quite fit the overall foreboding feeling of the picture, I still found some enjoyment in these detours. I would have preferred for their conversations to have run longer since Alan is not a character who makes it a habit to talk about his personal life and the future with his so-called friends. It helps that Johnson and Froseth exhibit effortless chemistry when sharing a frame.

The picture may be low on thrills, but it is not short on consequences. It is not a clear-cut case of bad guys being punished and good guys prevailing. We get the impression that the brothers have learned something about themselves, about each other, and the world around them—expected from a coming-of-age film. Although the work left me wanting more depth, I am optimistic that McMullin can deliver stronger, more urgent content in future projects.