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The Lodger (A Video Review)

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

The Lodger


Starring Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, Shane West, Simon West, Donal Logue, Rachael Leigh Cook, Mel Harris, Philip Baker Hall, Rebecca Pidgeon, Daphne Ashbrook, Kirk Fox, David Sullivan and Ernie Grunwald.

Screenplay by David Ondaatje.

Directed by David Ondaatje.

Distributed by Sony Pictures. 95 minutes. Rated R.

There is a lot of history behind The Lodger.

First of all, it is based on the same Marie Belloc Lowndes novel which spawned Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary 1927 film of the same name (though Hitchcock’s version is officially called The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog). That movie, which was the film which allowed Hitchcock to move to the US after working in England his early years – was about a woman who rented out a room to a stranger who she soon came to suspect of being a serial killer.

The killings were based upon the savage murders of Jack the Ripper – a connection that the modern Lodger makes even more explicit. In the new version, the action is moved to modern Los Angeles and the killer appears to be copycatting the Ripper murders. However, the base story – a disturbed woman rents a room to a stranger right as a string of serial murders begins – is mostly intact.

Which leads you to wonder: why the Ripper? Yes, of course, he was a horrendous monster, however at the time he was a freak of nature. So many years later there are newer, fresher monstrosities to choose from. After all, hard as it is to believe now, when Hitchcock’s film came out, the Ripper was still relatively recent news – it was less than 40 years old. So, in theory at least, the new killer could have indeed been the Ripper.

Obviously, over eighty years later that is no longer an option. (The movie vaguely teases the idea of the Ripper as a malevolent force over time – but they do not go so far as to suggest that this was the same killer.) Yet, his sheer inexplicability – the Ripper appeared to be unchecked evil with no motive or conscience – is undoubtedly why the Whitechapel fiend still holds a dark sway over the imagination and nightmares of so many.

Of course, The Lodger is not just a shadowy recreation of the murder spree, it is also a tribute to the master of suspense – Hitchcock. Writer/Director Ondaatje is a documentarian making his feature film debut. (His 1998 short “Waiting for Dr. McGuffin” was also a tribute to Hitchcock’s filmmaking style, though not specifically based on a Hitchcock story.)

Ondaatje uses many of Hitchcock’s signature stylistic tricks – odd pacing and camera angles, quick cuts, flashbacks and forwards and a slashing Bernard Herrmann-esque score – all of which work at slightly cross purposes. It gives The Lodger an interesting disorienting quality, and yet it also sometimes feels a little dated stylistically.

Also, both as a writer and a director, Ondaajte does not share Hitchcock’s quirky sense of humor. No matter how horrific his stories were, Hitchcock usually allowed his characters some levity and good times – toying with them as a cat might with a mouse. The people who populate The Lodger are for the most part miserable and mean – even the good guys. Particularly the lead character.

Alfred Molina is Chandler Manning – an LA homicide cop who has become burnt out from the ugliness of his job. He is estranged from his wife (Thirtysomething‘s Mel Harris) who recently attempted suicide and his daughter (Rachael Leigh Cook of She’s All That) who blames him for her mother’s condition.

He can no longer get along with his fellow cops or the Feds. For no particular reason, he assumes early on that his new rookie partner (Shane West, formerly of the TV series ER and Once and Again) is gay – an assumption that the rookie does not correct for most of the length of the film.

Right after the execution of one of Manning’s most famous busts – a man who was convicted of slashing and mutilating a couple of local prostitutes – a new crime takes place that looks identical to the MO of the earlier crime. Concerned he has sent the wrong man to death, Manning looks deeper into the quickly escalating group of crimes and realizes that they are an exact mimic of the Jack the Ripper murders.

In the meantime, an obviously slightly disturbed woman (Hope Davis) rents out her guest house to a mysterious lodger (Simon Baker). Her husband (Donal Logue) begins to think the lodger is a figment of her imagination, however she comes to wonder if the lodger is indeed the person committing all the crimes. And why do the police see her husband as a potential subject?

The puzzle becomes suitably labyrinthine – to the point where even the audience are at a loss as to what is really happening in the house and what is not. On the outside, the police work and sifting through evidence that is over a century old are also absorbing.

Even at the end much of what happened seems a bit ambiguous, which makes sense because the allure of the Ripper murders is that no one really knows exactly what happened.

No one could call The Lodger a perfect film, however it is an intriguing one.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: January 9, 2009.

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