This slow-burning exercise in Irish gothic strikes notes that echo ‘The Turn of the Screw’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ in its set-up, but eventually strays into Lovecraftiana as – along with this season’s Cold Skin and The Shape of Water – it ventures into the realms of the underwater people for an eerie, though not exactly conclusive finale. Shot in and around Loftus Hall, an ancient and reputedly haunted pile in County Wexford, it has a lush, decayed atmosphere and committed, strange performances from Charlotte Vega and Bill Milner as Rachel and Edward, eighteen-year-old orphan twins living alone in the huge house, bound there (and to a set of rules) by the dictates of a folk song that warns against not being in bed by midnight or letting a stranger cross the threshhold. They are clearly labouring under a family curse of some sort, and the Usher-Screw axis dictates that incestuous yearnings are at the root of it – in a less high-flown reference, they have something of a VC Andrews feel too.
It’s not quite clear whether the twins or whatever lurks under a leaky hatch in the hall are the lodgers of the title, but there are a flurry of complications. It’s 1920, and limping Sean (Eugene Simon) is just back from the First World War, sneered at by layabouts for fighting for the English – though he points out that they don’t seem to be doing much about their own ongoing war. Rachel takes an interest in the smitten young man, which prompts Edward to fits of violent jealousy – and there’s a lot of thigh-stroking and peeping on gropery, plus very sensual turns from Vega and Roisin Murphy as Sean’s sister. A lawyer (David Bradley in a seedy cameo) turns up to explain that the trust which finances the twins’ household expenses has run dry, and is fobbed off with a string of pearls – though there’s an interesting notion in the fagged-out, morally and literally bankrupt Anglo-Irish family losing their white elephant of an estate on the eve of Irish independence.
Though there’s some expert CGI manipulation of water, including the peculiar image of rain dripping up from the cellar, this plainly isn’t a film with resources to depict the house falling into the lake at the end – and, semi-derelict or not, the central location is a borrowed heritage site the filmmakers can’t do much damage to. At some point, the script by David Turpin – who also worked on the music score – takes its admirable commitment to ambiguity a little too far, and even the burst of action at the climax errs on the side of not saying much about what precisely has happened to some major characters. It doesn’t quite assemble all its elements to deliver a fully satisfying old dark house story, but it looks terrific, and has many dreamy, unsettling, creepy moments. Directed by Brian O’Malley, following up his more cut-and-dried demonic horror film Let Us Prey.