In the early 1920s, as Irish republicans try to break away from British rule in the Anglo-Irish War of Independence, a young woman living in a rural backwater is also trying to break free of an uneasy historical union in her own family. Rachel (Charlotte Vega, Another Me) lives with her twin brother Edward (Bill Milner, Son Of Rambow) in a dilapidated lakeside mansion – a property that has belonged to their refugee family for over 200 years. The twins’ life is governed by three rules inculcated by their long-dead parents: be in bed by midnight, never let a stranger in, and never stray far from one another. Now that they have celebrated their 18th birthday and ‘come of age’, Rachel longs to break rules and to escape her prescribed destiny, and the arrival of Sean (Eugene Simon), a crippled war veteran (dubbed a ‘traitor’ by the locals for fighting in the British Army) may just present her with a way out of her inherited fate – but shut-in Edward has no intention of ever leaving, or of deviating from family tradition, even if their English attorney Bermingham (David Bradley) is circling the property eager to unearth some small profit from its ruins. Meanwhile, something dark, moist and dank lives in the basement, oozing its way out through the trapdoor every night to reassert its hold over the property and those within it. For in this house, it is imperative to keep things in the family.
With its crumbling old pad (in fact Ireland’s supposedly haunted Loftus Hall), the anti-hero’s pallid gauntness, and the ghostly expression of a family’s perverse trauma, The Lodgers positively drips with the furnishings and fashions of old-school gothic. There must be something in the water, for not only does director Brian O’Malley’s second feature (following 2014’s Let Us Prey) skilfully reconjure the liquid spirit of Inferno (1980) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001), but it even finds room for the eels which have seemed to slither their way through other recent gothic revivals (like Kim Newman and Maura McHugh’s comic book Witchfinder miniseries The Mysteries Of Unland and Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness).
Everything here seeps with oppressive, mouldy atmosphere, and with the sense that adulthood’s inexorable approach will bring, indeed reproduce, eternal horror for this young duo, as the cycles of familial abuse rise like damp to infect each new generation with its own monstrousness. The Lodgers beautifully evokes conflicted identity, the traps of legacy, and the impossibility of ever truly leaving one’s past behind – and the film contains, in its climax, a genuinely spectacular underwater sequence that conveys all at once deadly drowning and miraculous rebirth.
The Lodgers was seen and reviewed at Horror Channel FrightFest Glasgow 2018.