The atmosphere is thick in Irish horror movie The Lodgers, both in director Brian O’Malley’s style and in the remote location of a crumbling rural estate. Shot at the real-life Loftus Hall, dubbed “the most haunted house in Ireland,” The Lodgers presents itself as a Gothic ghost story, but its hauntings are pretty mild, with a disappointing payoff. Still, the movie has enough style to hold the audience’s interest for most of its running time, along with strong performances from stars Charlotte Vega and Bill Milner.
Vega and Milner play twins Rachel and Edward, who live alone in their isolated family home following the deaths of their parents. They abide by three rules apparently handed down through the generations: They are always safely in bed by midnight, they never allow any strangers into their house, and they live their lives together. When Rachel starts testing the limits of these rules, it seems to anger the mysterious entities under the house, who have a very specific plan for the twins and their purpose in life.
Rachel’s flirtation with hunky, brooding villager Sean (Eugene Simon) is not part of that plan, and Edward becomes increasingly belligerent and unhinged when he sees his sister spending time with another man. The twins have just turned 18, and that means that it’s time for them to fulfill their destiny as determined by the house’s supernatural inhabitants, and in fine Gothic tradition, that destiny involves a whole lot of incest. The family’s slowly revealed secret isn’t that hard to figure out, and the exact nature of the specters living in the house is left vague, so it’s hard to tell what Rachel actually needs to do in order to escape her family’s curse.
Even so, Vega gives Rachel a real sense of longing and passion, as she opens herself up to the possibility of connecting with someone other than her brother. The movie is set in 1920, and Sean is a World War I veteran who’s come home with a prosthetic leg, which O’Malley uses to creepily sensual effect in one romantic scene between Sean and Rachel. But overall the historical context is underdeveloped; there are a few lines from fellow villagers about Sean being a “traitor” (presumably for fighting as part of the British army), but otherwise the story could take place during any suitably old-timey period.
The movie isn’t particularly scary, although Milner makes Edward into an unsettling presence, as he succumbs to the influence of the evil spirits, and there are some disturbing images connected to the string of suicides by drowning that plague the family. O’Malley makes such good use of the locations, complementing the imposing manor with equally gloomy, haunting production design and costuming, that it’s a shame David Turpin’s script isn’t more substantial. The house is meant to have an unbreakable hold on Rachel and Edward, binding them and their family to the grounds for an eternity of torment, but in the end the movie makes it a little too easy to walk away.