The Lodgers (2017)
★ / ★★★★
Gothic horror film “The Lodgers” is a massive disappointment because its look and setting is spot-on, but the screenplay is far from imaginative. It tells the story of twins Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) who find themselves trapped in an estate that their family has owned for two centuries. They must abide three rules: be in their bedrooms before midnight, never allow a stranger to pass through the front door, and never separate. Breaking rules would result in punishment delivered by malevolent beings that live under the floorboards. The picture has the makings of a dark fairy tale we can bite into during a stormy night, but the final product is soporifically generic.
Rachel and Edward’s place of living is beautiful despite the fact that it is in a state of dereliction. The ceilings are high and moldy, creepy paintings are bathed in shadows, uninhabited bedrooms tell a story simply by showing us the colors of bedsheets and ornaments resting on dressers. Even the unkempt grounds are interesting to look at, particularly the lake that Rachel frequents so she can have some peace to read and get lost in worlds other than her own. We realize immediately that there is something wrong with this body of water given that the girl occasionally encounters terrifying visions involving her parents who committed suicide.
Although capably performed by Vega and Millner, Rachel and Edward are not interesting together or apart. Perhaps it is because the screenplay attempts so hard to keep the secret involving their pasts that eventually it becomes glaringly obvious; we see so-called twists coming from a mile away and so tension fails to accumulate in a way that is natural or believable. It might have been more effective had such secrets been revealed early on, possibly via narration prior to the opening credits, so that we could have a chance to focus on circumstances that would allow the pair to be free of the curse instead of simply waiting for the enigma to be revealed. Here is a horror film without much suspense.
A more interesting relationship involves Rachel and Sean (Eugene Simon), a young man sent home from war because he had lost his leg. Rachel yearns for freedom so badly that we wonder whether she genuinely feels romantically interested him or whether he is simply a tool that will help her reach her endgame. Still, what they come to share is severely underdeveloped and so there is no emotional payoff during the climax: all visual effects and underwater sequences that are pretty to look at but they fail to make any sort of sense.
“The Lodgers,” written by David Turpin and directed by Brian O’Malley, offers eye-catching costumes and set decorations, but it lacks what really matters—a reason to engage the viewers emotionally and psychologically. What results is a horror film that attempts to be spooky but ending up rather vague and unsatisfying. In the middle of it, I wondered how it might have been different had the likes of Peter Jackson, Alfonso Cuarón, or J.A. Bayona been at the helm. Because these three writer-directors know how to turn horror and fantasy elements into something more substantial than simply relying on big reveals.