A Film a Week - The Lodgers

previously published on Cineuropa
The 50th edition of the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival came to an end with the European premiere of the slow-burning, sexually charged ghost psychodrama The Lodgers, directed by Brian O’Malley (best known for his previous straight-up gory horror flick, Let Us Pray) and written by David Turpin as his debut screenplay. Given that it is more chill-inducing and ominous than it is downright scary, this gothic tale will fare better with the arthouse side of the genre audience than it will with the hardcore fans.
Ireland, shortly after World War I. Two twins on the brink of adulthood, Rachel (played by Spanish-British actress Charlotte Vega, of Another Me fame) and Edward (Bill Milner, from Anthropoid), are living in a large, crumbling mansion by a set of rules enforced by the titular ghostly creatures and explained through a creepy nursery rhyme that serves as the film’s soundtrack. They have to be in bed before midnight, they must never let a stranger into their house, and if one of them leaves, the other will die. There is more to it, obviously, since their parents committed suicide together, just like several generations before them over the 200 years since the family moved from England, harbouring a terrifying secret.
While Edward is obeying the rules and never even leaves the house due to the trauma he experienced a few years back, Rachel, who is going through a sexual awakening, is keener on moving on and exploring the world. Sean (Eugene Simon), a war veteran from a nearby village who lost his leg in combat, shows a considerable interest in her, as she is thinking about going away with him. An unannounced visit from the family lawyer (David Bradley) stating that the trust fund is depleted and the twins will have to sell the house to pay the debts will set in motion a chain of both earthly and supernatural events.
Vega is pretty assured in her performance, channelling the tension of her sexual awakening and all the hardships of being the more mature one in the household, while Milner is dark enough to be compelling as the more shy and obedient one. Vega’s romantic chemistry with Eugene Simon is believable enough to pass as young love, and Sean’s disillusionment with the world and his status as an outcast and traitor among his fellow villagers are probably the strongest points of the script, effectively portraying the spirit of the time and place. However, they would have benefited more if their characters had been better developed than they are in Turpin’s screenplay.
But this deliberately simple script is made up for by O’Malley’s directing, creating a lurid atmosphere by using cinematographer Richard Kendrick’s gentle camera movements and Tony Kearns’ measured editing to maximum effect, and even elevating the elements of the production design, such as the house and the menacing water, to the level of lively characters. The old, beautiful and broken mansion, with all its creaking noises and its huge wooden staircase, is allegedly a real-life haunted house, while the water the ghostly creatures live in, emerging from down below and rushing up to the ceiling in drops, looks impressive in CGI, making The Lodgers a must-see for fans of gothic horror cinema.

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