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By Brad Wilke | September 29, 2008

“I’m not mad, Michael. I’m just thinking… about that kickboxing class.”

And therein lies the major shortcoming of “The Lodge”, an independently-produced feature film by the producing/directing team of Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach (Brothers Shamus Productions).

Expository dialogue. Way too much of it. In fact, probably enough for three independent films. Yes, I’m talking to you Deb Havener.

I don’t want to be too hard on this movie, though, because it does deliver quite a few genuine scares (okay, one or two, but who’s counting?) and manages to create real tension in the final 20 minutes. The problem is the first 60.

Call me crazy, but if I arrive at a bed-and-breakfast for a romantic weekend, the place is a mess and there is a crazy-eyed mountain man named Henry (Kevin McClatchy) gutting a “deer” in the garage, it’s going to raise a couple red flags. Not for Mike and Julia, though (ably played by Owen Szabo and Elizabeth Kell, respectively). In fact, they’re so non-plussed that Julia even explores the house (ostensibly looking for Mike) in a towel. When she finds him chatting with their host, all she can say is: “Oh. Um…I guess I shouldn’t be parading around in a towel.” You think?

Then comes the hot tub scene…

Now before you run out and rent this, let me say the directors draw more inspiration from Zalman King’s “Red Shoe Diaries” after they’ve been edited for TBS than they do from, say, Chuck Vincent during the hey-day of 80’s-era exploitation. Roughly translated, Julia keeps her swimsuit on. Which is fine, since there is not much real chemistry between the leads anyway. Most of their playful banter revolves around Mike wanting sex and Julia not, which gets old quickly. But there is something truly creepy about Henry nearly caressing her as she soaks, eyes closed and oblivious to his intentions.

So now the filmmakers have shown their hand… all their cards are on the table and now it comes down to how they choose to play them. Sometimes in poker, though, you can discard one or two clunkers and replace them something fresh. They should have done this with their cards “The phone’s dead!” and “The car won’t start!”. Unfortunately, they chose to play these cards, so we’re left with a second act filled with a series of well-worn horror clichés and a lot of shots of Mike struggling in the attic to free himself from ropes and duct tape.

I’m guessing this is where the directorial baton was handed off, because the second half of the film seemed like it was directed by a different person than the first half. Which could very well be the case. The pace went slack, the tension died and the leads were left to fend for themselves in opposite sections of the house.

I should probably also mention that this is where the creative team introduces the Mysterious Child, breaking new ground by having her hair colored blonde (as opposed to the usual brunette of most crazed children in independent films these days). I honestly think she was written in for the sole purpose of XXXXXXXXXXX just when Julia is XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX right before XXXXXXXXXXX. But I have no way to prove that.

“The Lodge” is most certainly influenced by films like “High Tension” and “The Descent”, both successful films featuring women in peril that choose to fight their way out rather than rely on ineffectual (or non-existent) males. (Confidential to Mike: I guess this is as good a time as any to say this, but you really need to grow a pair. Just sayin’.) Seeing as how this was written by a woman, I can only wonder if this was an homage to the grisly grindhouse fair of the 1970s, including “I Spit On Your Grave” and “The Last House On the Left”. If “The Lodge” is a sort of post-post feminist comment on the state of female characters in film, I must applaud its effort. If not, then it’s really just another nihilistic entry in the banal torture porn canon…but I guess that’s up to you to decide.

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