The Lodger (2009)


Now available on DVD


Alfred Molina as Manning

Hope Davis as Ellen

Simon Baker as Malcolm

Shane West as Wilkenson

Philip Baker Hall as Smith

Donal Logue as Bunting

Directed by David Ondaatje


When I initially heard about The Lodger, I was excited. Boasting a good cast and intriguing premise, it sounded like a genre project worth paying attention to. Then, it kind of disappeared prior to making its way to DVD. There is a good reason it never received a wide theatrical release. The aforementioned cast and premise are wasted in what has to be one of the dullest serial killer thrillers ever made.

Based on a 1913 novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes and turned into a film by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, The Lodger finds two West Hollywood detectives, Manning (Alfred Molina) and Wilkenson (Shane West), hunting a killer they thought was dead. Seven years earlier a man named Rodriguez was executed for murdering prostitutes. Now someone is doing it again in exactly the same way, meaning Rodriguez might have been innocent. To make matters more complicated the coroner informs Manning and Wilkenson that the killer is imitating Jack the Ripper.

Meanwhile, Ellen (Hope Davis) and her husband Bunting (Donal Logue), an unhappily married couple, are trying to rent their guest house. They desperately need the money but no one has even stopped by to look at it. Suddenly a mysterious man named Malcolm (Simon Baker) shows up and rents it instantly. He pays for three months in cash. Claiming to be a writer, he wants the only key and demands that no one ever bother him.

Writer and director David Ondaatje works overtime straining to establish everyone as a suspect, possibly hoping that doing so will distract viewers from how monotonous his film is. So Bunting works nights but is never home and acts in a suspicious manner; Malcolm also disappears at night and behaves strangely; Manning has a screwed up home life and somehow “fits the profile,” according to Captain Smith (Philip Baker Hall), his superior. Or, is the real culprit “none of the above”?

You will be hard pressed to care. Ondaatje, who has never directed a feature before, does a poor job behind the camera. The killings themselves are always almost entirely off screen. The killer stalks his victim, she turns around and sees someone following her, and then they attack. We hear some screaming but see next to nothing. These scenes are awkwardly staged and edited. The same is true of the lone “action” scene. When it looks as if the killer might be apprehended, shots are fired and a foot chase ensues. It is staged so stiffly and feebly, you can’t help but chuckle.

The talented cast is working far from the top of their game, as if perfectly aware of the lackluster material. They seem bored and lack conviction. When uttering lines about someone “fitting a profile” or being “the personification of evil,” they appear to know full well how ridiculous they sound.

When the killer is finally revealed, you are likely to feel relief more than anything else. Finally, the mess is over. Until then The Lodger plods along, never gains any momentum, and does nothing interesting with a story full of potential. It is one big disappointment.