Rachel (Charlotte Vega) has been out too long: night has drawn in and the woods are dark, when she really should be inside. On realising the time, she abandons her book by the shore of the lake and rushes back to the Irish mansion house she shares with her twin brother Edward (Bill Milner), and when she arrives, the trapdoor in the middle of the cavernous hall beginning to rattle and brim with water, he is furious with her, and lets her know in no uncertain terms. Ever since their parents drowned themselves in the lake they have been cursed to remain there, shunned by the locals as unwanted English, and plagued by the sprits of the dead they believe exist in the water... but do they?
The Lodgers was compared to the intermittent bursts of interest in Gothic tales that cinema returned to again and again, films like The Others, which seemed to spark the twenty-first century revivals, or The Woman in Black and Crimson Peak, two examples of how the genre was used as an excuse to allow directors, writers and cast alike to let it all hang out and go bonkers in apparently classy surroundings. That veneer of sophistication by appealing to the memories of various Brontes or Wilkie Collins, which in their day were as much lurid potboilers as anything in those movies, proved welcome to audiences, and this Irish instance was very much in that tradition.
Cast your English rose, in this case Anglo-Spanish star Vega, arrange some dodgy geezers around her (scary ladies optional), and add a strong dose of the supernatural then mix and you would have a pretty decent chance at concocting some kind of success, artistic if not financial, since everyone who sought these out were well aware of the conventions played with and what to expect from what could be a fairly narrow style, no matter how many variations were constructed with the basic building blocks. Director Brian O'Malley enjoyed a confident technique and a very good eye for what this should look like up on the screen; half of why this was enjoyable was down to his chilly visuals.
Another bonus was the literate script by David Turpin, who had evidently grown up with this material and general yarns from his homeland about various haunts and phantoms: a nice aspect was how well it slotted into those traditions of passing the stories down verbally through the generations, it contained an authenticity that was not undercut by outrageous gore scenes, no matter how hysterical certain characters became. The Lodgers managed to ground itself in a sense of place and time, the troubled Ireland of the nineteen-twenties, but also set it in a mood of terrible consequence for sticking with customs that were anything but healthy, as we discover when more of Rachel and Edward's background is filled in, mostly with that very Gothic horror of the dread of incest.
Our heroine has someone else in her life she can turn to, one of the local boys Sean (Eugene Simon) who has lost his lower leg in the First World War and refuses to join in with the others' disdain for the odd siblings living on borrowed means in their crumbling country house (an actual haunted building a few centuries old, looking every bit the part - the locations finders earned their salary on this movie). That tone of a passing of what had been established before moving onto new holders of the keys to the kingdom was maybe not too subtle, but did build the social peril the siblings were in as all the while their paranormal antagonists threatened them, with Edward turning to violence when his desperation grows too much to bear, not to mention his attempt at sustaining a horrendous tradition Rachel would rather be without. David Bradley was here too, as a solicitor trying to persuade them to give it up, wise words that may go unheeded, and overall if there was little original in the trappings, it all held together with icy, watery enigma.
[Thunderbird Releasing have this one on DVD, with a Behind the Scenes featurette, two deleted scenes, and the trailer as extras.]