Studio: Epic Pictures
Director: Brian O’Malley
Writer: David Turpin
Producer: Ruth Treacy, Julianne Ford
Stars: Charlotte Vega, Bill Milner, Eugene Simon, Deirdre O’Kane, Moe Dunford, Roisin Murphy, David Bradley
Twin siblings find their family’s dark secret threatened with exposure when one breaks the rules of the haunted house that binds them together.
What comes to mind when the words “gothic ghost story” are mentioned? Despite fatal faults in all other regards, “The Lodgers” may well be among the best visual representations of what that term entails. Quiet moodiness bleeds profusely, to the point of being cinematically overwhelming frankly, from cobwebbed candelabras, dust-crusted banisters, and more moldy wallpaper peeling from shadowed stone than could fill fifty Castle Draculas. Unfortunately, this gorgeously haunting presentation hopelessly defeats itself fighting an unwinnable war to find a suspenseful story worth telling.
Blind is by and large the optimal way to go into most movies. Knowing as little as possible neutralizes expectations, tempers anticipation, and frees fiction to create an experience uninfluenced by individual preconceptions.
“The Lodgers” however, exposes its frustratingly thin substance with such confounding stubbornness, many of the minutes spent watching it are preoccupied by a struggle to decipher what it is even about, either thematically or otherwise. Here, having a leg up on the content awards an unmistakable advantage in figuring out the film when it fails to make its narrative known.
Fraternal twins Rachel and Edward live alone in a remote Irish mansion where their ancestors similarly brooded for two centuries. We later learn that Rachel and Edward’s parents, their parents’ parents, and their parents’ parents’ parents all committed suicide by drowning in a nearby lake, dooming the siblings to be next in line for this unspoken curse.
The adult orphans are strangely bound to their house through mysterious rules they remind themselves of by weirdly singing a creepy nursery rhyme with some seeming regularity. Or, more likely, the song is sung because an echoing children’s chorus is a cheaply applied fright film staple. Regardless, these rules require Rachel and Edward to be in bed before the clock strikes midnight and to never allow a stranger through the mansion’s doors.
What is the consequence of breaking the rules? It isn’t entirely clear at first, and doesn’t entirely wash in retrospect either, yet it involves a floorboard hatch in the foyer filled with sentient water dripping toward the ceiling.
Older villagers whisper about Rachel and Edward’s dark family secret while younger hooligans are busy hassling local youth Sean as a traitor since his recent return from the war. Rachel and Sean set a record for lightning quick connections when one intervention leads to romance. This in turn inspires jealousy in Edward, whose incestuous interest in his sister links directly to their ties with the house. With all three points on this odd love triangle sharpened, the stage is set for a tug-of-war among this trio as well as the ghostly entities swimming underneath the mansion.
“The Lodgers” learned its lessons from the same school of slow-burn spookiness as “The Quiet Ones” (review score), “The Others,” “The Innkeepers,” and similar stiff-lipped chillers with titles along the lines of “The Somethings.” Impressively imposing in its imagery from title card to end credits, “The Lodgers” nevertheless skips all opportunities to energize its look with lively characters, emotional engagement, or an intricate mystery that a captive imagination might mull over. The film commands attention only through the eyes, leaving such depressing drabness in its wake, intrigue on any other level has no source of sustenance.
Poetically obtuse theatricality obscures everything else the film might be trying to accomplish. David Turpin’s screenplay so hotly desires to be a supernatural “Wuthering Heights” that it comically chokes on pretentious period dialogue, overemphasizing language like “young lady,” “chicanery,” and “good day, sir.”
Conversational exchanges involve respondents repeating the sentence just said, punctuating pomposity with curious musings more commonly found in a lovelorn preteen’s diary. These are three such examples where the cast may as well have gone all the way by pressing the backs of their hands to their foreheads while speaking:
Reply: “How can fate be wrong?”
“What’s worse than hatred?”
Reply: “Love can be worse than hatred.”
“We’re all cursed to die.”
Reply: “No one is cursed to die. We’re cursed to live.”
Had any onscreen personality applied the same passion that the script hollowly pursues, perhaps “The Lodgers” could locate a pulse. Flat lines characterize the mouths on each face as well as the audience’s heart rate while passively observing sexual encounters absent of steam or environments devoid of true dread.
Combined with uncomfortable implications, confused editing that jumps to parallel plots at inopportune intervals, and secondary roles serving no useful purpose (Kay, anyone?), the movie makes for a rickety ride through a routine exercise in dull horror. Undeniably sleek style aside, “The Lodgers” at least never truly loses you, only because it never has you to begin with.
Review Score: 45