Released Feb. 23, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 32min
Directed by Brian O’Malley
Starring Charlotte Vega, Bill Milner, Eugene Simon, David Bradley
Twins Rachel (Vega) and Edward (Milner) lead cursed lives – bound in solitude to their ancestral estate by a supernatural force that governs their lives and demands they produce children once they reach adulthood. As their 18th birthday arrives, Rachel is having none of it and begins desperately seeking a way out, but conversely, Edward may be warming up to the idea.
Primarily, The Lodgers is a gothic ghost story, and it really sells that type of atmosphere. In fact, it strongly invokes many of the themes and elements of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, albeit with a considerably different story structure. It could also be considered something of a fusion between Pride and Prejudice, Flowers in the Attic, and The Turn of the Screw (a book which was likewise a large influence on what is probably the best-known gothic horror film of the last quarter-century, The Others).
The Lodgers gets off to a strong start. Some bizarre and mysterious sights and character reactions are presented in a way that stokes some legitimate curiosity. The creepy melody sung over the opening credits lays out the rules by which the house-bound twins must live – a nursery rhyme passed to them by their parent/aunt-uncles (gross). The squirm-inducing plot is well introduced, the gothic atmosphere is adeptly established, and Charlotte Vega, as primary protagonist Rachel, demonstrates that she can capably carry scenes like a solid lead actress. Things are looking good.
I wouldn’t have led off like that if it had made good on the promise of its first act. Before long, The Lodgers has a whole lot going on for a ninety-minute movie, and it becomes obvious that all these disparate elements will likely not be united in a satisfactory way. And they’re not. It’s fine when a love interest is introduced for Rachel (at least one she didn’t share a womb with for nine months – gross) because that’s the catalyst the story needs to really get going. However, that love interest Sean has his own tragic backstory that gets considerable attention from the narrative. Additionally, he gets wrapped up in a subplot involving political violence, the Irish War of Independence, and the town’s resident bully – all of which gets its own screen time and none of which contributes anything to the plot. It’s a baffling choice on the part of the filmmakers. Meanwhile, Edward just sulks away in the decaying estate – an opportunity lost to build him into a compelling and more complicated antagonist. He just is, and his sudden descent into madness is delivered in the kind of shorthand that should have been reserved for Sean’s nowhere story threads.
There’s even more material stuffed into The Lodgers than that. So much so, that the paranormal villains of the story get short shrift too. It’s made clear that they are grey, soggy, naked, and mad, but not much else is divulged. As the most extraordinary elements of the plot, their neglect is even less understandable than that of Edward – and the price for all the inattention to both of Rachel’s key adversaries is truly paid in the film’s climactic moments, which simply doesn’t hit with the necessary impact. It just lands with a wet thud – an ‘oh……ok then’ type of ending. All this, and there was an entire separate subplot involving David Bradley – Filch from the Harry Potter series – that didn’t even get addressed here, but likewise consumed valuable time for questionable payoff.
If anything benefits from this overly busy narrative, it’s the pacing, because this movie flew, which given its gothic pedigree, is a rare feat for a subgenre best known for slowburn horror. However, it doesn’t speed along with the focus of an Olympic sprinter – it’s more like that of a hyperactive child loaded up on Halloween candy. Another 30-45 minutes to bind all these elements together more tightly while also trimming some fat from the plot and tweaking that lackluster ending, and we could be looking at one of the year’s best. Instead, we’re just looking at one of the year’s movies.