I'm a sucker for gothic horror, with its inky shadows that coat the corners of dilapidated mansions, its repressed sexuality that busts out in dramatic gasps, its ghosts who break hearts and snap minds (and sometimes spines). So, I expected to love The Lodgers, a gothic horror tale about the suffering siblings trapped in a haunted home with a dark history. Sadly, the script by David Turpin feels like a lazy check-list of the genre (creepy house, maudlin children, incestuous overtones, mysterious ghosts). And the direction by Brian O'Malley does nothing to elevate that basic approach.
Set in 1920 Ireland, The Lodgers follows twins Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) as they tip into adulthood. As the only surviving members of their clan, they must care for the sprawling estate that is overgrown, tumbledown and overrun at night by ghosts. If the twins keep to the rules, the ghosts won't hassle them. But if they let strangers in, stay out past midnight, or dare to question what's to come next, they'll be tormented by the dead.
Pallid and emaciated Edward takes every rule to heart, not even daring to step outside the dark and dank home. But rose-cheeked and defiant Rachel hungers for more than her brother's neediness and the ghost's demands of allegiance. She treks to town, flirts with a sweet soldier (Eugene Simon), and dares to dream of a future beyond the bleak family home. But there's an unspoken destiny to which she is promised. The Lodgers means to play this fate as its grand mystery. But frankly, if you've seen any other gothic horror movie, you'll likely be able to guess the big twist by about minute 10.
Still, the film's predictability wouldn't be near as damaging if it had bold style to make up for its lack of substance. Sadly, O'Malley is content to paint much of his movie in bland grays. His imagery is the standard of decay and dark water. Its only surprise is ghouls that are not so much frightening as they are fully nude. Which frankly feels like a cheap shock tactic considering the genre. Like what's creepier than sopping wet ghosts? Naked sopping wet ghosts!
At least the performances are respectable. Vega's angelic face makes her a picture-perfect heroine for this battle against a dark destiny. Her big eyes flash with resistance and terror in turn. And though the script does her little favors, she's able to pull passion into her various seething speeches.
Gaunt and glowering, Milner efficiently establishes Edward as a boy haunted and dangerous. Meanwhile, Simon -- who memorably played the cult-loving Lancel Lannister in Game of Thrones -- is unrecognizable here as the earnest young lover. His guileless countenance offers a spark of hope for Rachel's escape; his broad shoulders wordlessly promises to both embrace and protect her. And perfectly unnerving character actor
Yet for all this, the underwhelming mystery at its center damns The Lodgers to mediocrity. Its lackluster imagery won't save it. And so its stars sink.
The Lodgers opens Feb. 23.