I liked enough of 2014’s Let Us Prey, the debut feature from Irish filmmaker Bryan O’Malley, to want to see whatever he would do next. In addition to conjuring up some truly nightmarish imagery, O’Malley displayed an incredible talent for stylized visuals and slow-burn pacing. His follow-up film, this year’s The Lodgers, is a totally different kind of horror movie, but one which again showcases many of O’Malley’s same gifts as a visual storyteller.
This gothic ghost story, set in early 20th century Ireland, follows a pair of orphaned twin siblings, Rachel and Edward (Charlotte Vega and Bill Milner), who are more or less prisoners of the mansion they inherited and now inhabit alone. They live by a strict set of rules that keep them confined indoors, lest invoking the anger of the Lodgers, the ghosts who share their cursed home. As their eighteenth birthday approaches and the twins are informed that their financial state necessitates that they sell the family home, Rachel beings to dream of a life outside the only walls she’s ever known—a dream made all the more real by the arrival of a young man (Eugene Simon) who lost his leg in war and wants to show Rachel something more than her cursed existence.
While certainly not to all tastes, let’s not bury the lede: The Lodgers is a breathtakingly beautiful film, dripping in atmosphere and mood and a quiet, understated dread that permeates every frame of the story. Like Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak from a few years back, it presents a world in which I want to live, losing myself in the Gothic majesty of Loftus Hall, the nearly thousand-year-old mansion in Ireland where the entire movie was shot (and which is rumored to have a supernatural history of its own). This is the kind of horror movie that’s much more about how it feels than anything that actually happens in the film, so those looking for jump scares or big payoffs are likely to come away disappointed. Even as Gothic horror goes, The Lodgers is more Bronte than Bava.
As is so often the case with ghost stories, there is more to The Lodgers than just the story of a haunted mansion. There are ideas about class being presented, what with Rachel and Edward facing eviction and no longer able to hold on to the home that has been in their family for generations. There are ideas about sexual maturation, as Rachel falls in love with a boy and is ready to walk alongside him into adulthood while her brother Edward would sooner stay with her in the house forever; while their relationship is never overtly incestuous, the same overtones that can be felt in works like Crimson Peak and The Fall of the House of Usher can be felt here. It’s all a part of the lush, Gothic tapestry that O’Malley weaves.
One of the joys of a genre festival like Cinepocalypse is that it offers seemingly endless variations on this thing we call the horror film: one movie will be a splattery gore comedy, one will be a psychological thriller, one will be a quiet, meditative ghost story like The Lodgers. It’s what makes the genre great. My tastes don’t totally run parallel to what The Lodgers has to offer, but I can still appreciate how gorgeously made it is, how haunting it feels. This one stays with you.
Movie Score: 3/5
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