Cults are compelling. The story of a person falling under the spell of a charismatic leader is universally fascinating, even as it usually ends with that leader exposed or falling from power as swiftly as they rose to possess it.
One recent film, however, focuses on what’s left behind after a cult crumbles, exploring the dangers of brainwashing years after its character escapes a life physically under the leader’s control. Here’s why you should check out the scariest, most shocking cult horror-thriller on Hulu.
Directed by Austrian aunt-and-nephew team Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy), The Lodge was produced by classic horror label Hammer Films and distributed by Neon (behind such recent titles as Parasite and Palm Springs). A combo like that is intriguing, but The Lodge takes its time with its creeping, enigmatic story. While it does eventually reach monstrous heights, The Lodge takes a deliberate, eerie path to get there.
The film opens on a family: two kids, Aiden (It’s Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh, playing Sprite in Marvel’s upcoming Eternals) and their divorced parents, Laura (Alicia Silverstone) and Richard (The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage). When Richard asks Laura to finalize their divorce so he can marry his new love, Grace (Riley Keough), Laura instead takes her own life.
Blaming Grace for their mother’s death, Aiden and Mia attempt to learn more about her. In a chilling shaky-cam sequence, they watch a younger Grace examine bodies shrouded in purple cloth. When the kids are left with Grace in the family’s mountain lodge, they hatch a plan for revenge but underestimate the power this woman’s mysterious past continues to hold over her.
Warning! Spoilers ahead for The Lodge.
The cult that eventually plays a role in The Lodge bears a striking resemblance to Heaven’s Gate, a UFO death cult known for a mass suicide that took place on March 26, 1997. The bodies of cult members were covered in purple shrouds and referred to their bodies as mere “vehicles” to eventually graduate.
While it initially appears that Grace has left her dark past behind her, The Lodge is a testament to just how easily those who have fallen prey to a controlling group like a cult can relapse back into old behaviors. Brainwashing goes deep, and there’s always a part of those affected by it who question their former leaders and wonder, “What if they were right along?”
Unlike most horror movies, there aren’t any true villains in The Lodge: just people undergoing massive trauma and attempting to cope. Co-director Veronika Franz told SlashFilm:
“We wanted to do a horror film without one bad guy, without a monster. We wanted to show people being both good and bad, guilty and not guilty. And I think it’s the combination of all of it and the lack of communication that creates the tragedy or the horror.”
This nuance is capably captured by the film’s strong cast, especially Riley Keough, an indie darling (and Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), and Jaeden Martell, star of the blockbuster It franchise. Both communicate their own personal versions of religious mythologies, whether knowingly or not, and commit to them with a fervent, trauma-fueled devotion.
You can’t exactly blame Mia and Aiden, who just lost their mother, for lashing out at Grace and trying to convince her of various falsehoods, including the idea the characters are all in purgatory. You also can’t fully blame Grace, suddenly confronted with her past and no longer taking her medication, for regressing into a long-buried cult mentality.
Even once a cult is gone, the harm it inflicted on survivors still permeates their lives. Take for instance the fate of Ricky Rodriguez, born in the Children of God cult and driven to a murder-suicide after leaving the group and reckoning with abuse he suffered as a child.
The Lodge feels like a long, slow descent into darkness. But that’s exactly what life after leaving a cult can become without careful and active deprogramming. The Lodge may seem depressing and unrealistic, but it’s really an eerie cautionary tale, not to mention a great spooky watch.
The Lodge is now streaming on Hulu in the U.S.