Loretta Goff gets gothic at The Lodgers, which screened at the Cork Film Festival.
Introducing The Lodgers at the Cork Film Festival, Director Brian O’Malley said that he wanted to make a “beautiful and elegant ghost story” that reflected the script. O’Malley was given David Turpin’s script by producers Ruth Treacy and Julianne Forde after they saw his first feature film, the horror Let Us Prey (2014). After reading it and being struck by the beauty of some of the dialogue, O’Malley decided to bring the gothic horror to life.
The Lodgers tells the story of Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner), Anglo-Irish twins who live alone in a boarded up, decaying Big House in rural 1920s Ireland. The two are bound to the house by a family curse, sharing it only with the supernatural spirits that live below, emerging through a hatch in the floor to haunt their nights. The siblings must always be in their rooms by midnight and cannot let anyone else enter their residence for fear of otherworldly punishment. Edward dreads leaving the house at all, feeling “protected” by it in some way, and unravels within it, becoming part of its shadows. Rachel, on the other hand, takes her days for herself, enjoying the freedom of the outdoors, particularly after she meets the recently returned WWI soldier, Sean (Eugene Simon).
As the twins turn eighteen, the presence of the spirits grows heavier, creating a sense of urgency. This is reinforced by the visit of estate manager, Mr. Bermingham (David Bradley), who bears news of their dire finances and demands to appraise the mansion for sale. Amidst this, Rachel becomes more daring and desperate to escape, leading to increased tension with her brother.
Vega and Milner deliver strong performances as the siblings who are at once very alike (often going through the same motions in parallel) and very different (with opposing desires). The actors’ chemistry with one another carries from tender moments to violent, and often uncomfortable, ones. Together they aptly portray a relationship in turmoil, reflecting how being bound together can also tear you apart.
The striking production of this film deserves special attention; from the sets to the costuming and cinematography, The Lodgers looks very good. Under the guidance of O’Malley, who used The Innocents (1961), The Hunger (1983) and The Duke of Burgundy (2014) as references for the look of the film, director of photography Richard Kendrick and production designer Joe Fallover create a sumptuous gothic aesthetic. Loftus Hall in Wexford, itself reportedly haunted, offers an imposing presence in the film as the twins’ place of residence, eerily solid and impervious at the same time, holding the twins in, but also leaving them open to threat (thin curtains blow out an open window that lets in the elements and the otherworldly frequently intrude with their watery presence). The house reflects a fading decadence, replaced by dampness and erosion, that mirrors the weakening grip of English colonial power in Ireland at the time.
Indeed, this film reflects another haunting spectre—that of England’s presence in Ireland. A group of local young men, led by Dessie (Moe Dunford), consider the returned Sean a traitor for fighting in the British Army while they were busy fighting their own war at home. They equally regard the Anglo-Irish twins in the Big House with disdain, reflecting both political and class tensions. Topping it all off is the grave simply marked 1916 in the woods of the estate. Though this marks the burial spot of the twins’ parents, in the context of Ireland it only evokes one thing—the 1916 Rising. Genre films are often criticised as lacking cultural specificity, but that cannot be said about The Lodgers.
Overall, while the film’s narrative does let it down in some places, feeling a bit simplified, this is made up for by its stunning visual style, gothic-drenched atmosphere and strong acting by the two leads. This new Irish horror is definitely one to watch.
The Lodgers screened on 12th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival