Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, Simon Baker, Shane West, Donal Logue
Written & Directed by David Ondaatje
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
When I first heard the cast that was lined up for this latest incarnation of the classic tale The Lodger, I could barely contain my excitement. Every person involved has proven they are capable of some pretty stellar work, and I’m happy to report that not a single one let me down. The script, however, is another story. Based on the 1913 novel by Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes, The Lodger has been adapted for the screen numerous times, starting with the 1927 silent black & white version by the granddaddy of the modern thriller, Alfred Hitchcock himself. According to director Ondaatje, however, this 2009 edition eschews the typical “artistic license” found in many of the others and is based solely on the book, although updated to modern times.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s a brief synopsis. It opens with the discovery of a prostitute’s viciously mutilated corpse in West Hollywood. In charge of the case is burned-out police force vet Chandler Manning (Molina), who, adding insult to injury, is unhappily saddled with a rookie (West) to assist with the investigation. It turns out the killing parallels a series of slayings Manning solved seven years previously. At least he thought he solved it. The perpetrator, a man named Rodriguez, was executed, but now it’s looking like the wrong man took the blame. Not only is this new killer emulating Rodriguez’s MO, but as the body count rises, it soon becomes apparent that the real inspiration for the murders is Jack the Ripper.
Meanwhile, we’re introduced to the Buntings (Davis and Logue), an obviously miserable couple with a guest house in back of their home but no tenant to help pay the bills. He’s employed as a nighttime security guard and is rarely around the rest of the day while she is evidently being rather lax about staying on her meds, which works out just fine for our Lodger, Malcolm (Baker). He appears out of nowhere with no clothing or furniture, throws $3,000 at Ellen Bunting to get her to rent the place to him on the spot, and insists on complete and absolute silence and privacy, claiming to be a writer. She offers to include breakfast in the bargain, and he accepts so long as her husband never steps foot near the residence. Of course it isn’t long before Ellen is getting all dolled up for their morning ritual and offering the aloof but charismatic Malcolm a lot more than toast and coffee.
There’s an extraneous side story involving Manning’s conflict with his grown daughter (Rachael Leigh Cook) over his wife’s attempted suicide that’s clearly included to throw suspicion onto him (anger issues always equate to being a serial killer, right?), and we’re also made to believe that possibly Ellen’s husband is the killer. All of this could have worked, but again, the script really shows its weak spots. I don’t know about your relationships, but there’s no way in hell my boy friend would ever let me rent out our property to someone he hadn’t met, much less go along with his request to be left completely alone. Plus, it’s a bit convenient (and contrived) to think that Malcolm shows up at the exact time that Ellen begins her descent into such extreme instability. It’s to her credit that Davis manages to give an overall riveting performance and almost pulls the character off. And it’s great to finally see Molina get a role he can sink his teeth into even if he, too, is stymied by the clichés of his storyline. West and Logue are somewhat wasted, but it was still nice to see them make a valiant effort with the little they were given to do.
On the plus side, The Lodger is competently and interestingly filmed (at least there’s no shaky cam or quick edits like so many of today’s directors insist on including) and manages to convey a disconcerting sense of anxiety when appropriate. The kills are mostly off-screen and bloodless, but one in particular — which focuses solely on the victim’s feet twitching while her insides are being removed — is quite unnerving and powerful. It has a solid classical score by the always reliable John Frizzell that makes excellent use of strings and a few operatic passages. And once more, I have to sing the praises of Hope Davis. The film may be called The Lodger, but the focus is really on Ellen, and the nuances to Davis’ portrayal of her are a pleasure to watch. Baker, as well, is perfectly cast as Malcolm, exhibiting the right mix of restraint and coercion as Ellen falls under his spell. Reviews have been mixed on the ending, but it satisfied me so no complaints there.
On the special features front, we get your typical 18-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with cast and crew interviews along with a batch of deleted and alternate scenes, none of which would have added much to the finished product had they been included. The best part of the featurette is the DP talking about the numerous homages to Hitchcock. If you’re a Hitch fan, The Lodger is probably worth a rental just to see if you can spot them all.
If it sounds like I’m fairly hot and cold on The Lodger, it’s because I am. As I was watching, I enjoyed it, but the more distance I get from it, the less memorable it becomes. At one point Malcolm tells Ellen, “I’m not particular … about food.” If you’re not too particular either, then it could be just the light taste of Ripper mayhem that you’ve been craving since being sucked in by the disappointingly unsatisfying From Hell and other similar fare. Otherwise, you may want to give it a pass.
3 out of 5
2 out of 5
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