Ireland has a rich tradition of Gothic art. From Dracula to The Portrait of Dorian Gray right up to Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Lenane, the notion of Ireland as a place steeped in mystery and suspense has been kept going for centuries. There have been few films however. The Lodgers seeks to change that and although it opens new possibilities for Irish horror it ultimately fails to properly bring forth any of the nastiness that could be associated with our long history of occupation, misery and bloodshed.
Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) are two Anglo-Irish twins living in a decaying manor on the border of a village during the Irish War of Independence. They live under a curse which forces them to stay together, keep strangers out of the mansion and to be in bed by midnight. The return of crippled World War I soldier Sean Nally (Eugene Simon) arouses Rachel’s curiosity and upsets both Edward and the dripping spirits that haunt the mansion by night.
The Lodgers couldn’t be more Gothic if it tried. It has everything you’d read in a second-hand collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories. Ravens, virgins in white nightgowns and a draughty mansion all add to the sordid air of sexual repression and shadowy phantoms.
In fact, sexual repression is what the film hinges on, in its’ case what should be repressed rather than what shouldn’t be. All of the bodice ripping and breathy moans in the world can’t outdo what’s going on in The Lodgers. Anymore would be spoiling it but let’s just say Rachel and Edward’s family were cursed for a very good reason.
Turpin’s script is all well and good, but it could have taken place anywhere. It doesn’t need to be set at the mid-point of the Irish War of Independence. Instead the extra background goings-on distract from the main story. Sure, Sean is accosted and shunned on his return for fighting with the English but does any of that really matter when it comes to his relationship with his cursed beloved? Not really. You’d think the relationship between a Catholic working-class cripple and a Protestant landowner would be a goldmine in terms of Gothic storytelling, but Sean often comes across as another piece of broken furniture in The Lodgers.
Director Brian O’Malley shoots The Lodgers classically allowing the camera to take in the grey, stifling atmosphere of the mouldy mansion. Shots of the woods echo Little Red Riding Hood while the trees and a lakeside setting are used to great effect. Rachel is often lit in whatever light is available while Edward remains in the shadows, already half ghost. A nude dream sequence and phallocentric examination of Sean’s stump leg offer moments of disturbing tranquillity even if the latter is the period drama equivalent of banging a sex gong. Maybe the occasional ringing gong wouldn’t have been amiss considering how present the taut string score is.
The Lodgers is not a bad film, but it could be so much better. Turpin’s stilted script does the actors – especially Eugene Simon – no favours. The soundtrack is more of a distraction than anything else and not enough time is given to considering what role the background conflict should have in the story. Still The Lodgers may yet pave the way towards a deeper examination of Irish history in the Gothic mode. The ghosts of the past are all there. All they need is a camera.