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
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 that 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
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
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 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
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
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 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: January 9, 2009.