Director Baptise Drapeau’s The Lodger (Messe Basse; France, 2020) is as loony as at least one of its characters. It is the type of thriller that is fun to watch as its mysteries are slowly and tantalizingly revealed. Viewers will find themselves smiling at its wicked humor and weird elements that recall the style of Claude Chabrol, while having a blast with the superb lead performances by Alice Isaaz, Jacqueline Bissett — and a nurse’s mannequin. All of this, along with some hair-raising atmosphere, make for a highly recommended watch.
Julie (Isaaz) is a young lady from the country who moves to the city to attend nursing school after the death of her mother. She rents a room in exchange for tidying up the place from widow Elizabeth (Bisset), who, 20 years on, has never gotten to the point of accepting her husband Victor’s death. She talks about him in the present tense and as if he is in the same room, setting out empty clothes in his place. Though warned by one of Elizabeth’s family members to leave the place immediately, Julie instead opts to play into Elizabeth’s fantasies, even providing a nursing mannequin to further them.
Julie becomes further enraptured by Elizabeth’s romantic recollections, and soon mysterious occurrences have the young woman wondering if Victor is indeed a presence in the home. Suddenly-empty glasses of port and burning cigarettes support that line of thinking, though her common sense dictates otherwise — for a while, until she also begins buying into the romantic fantasy, making Elizabeth increasingly jealous and vengeful.
Drapeau paces The Lodger wonderfully, keeping whether or not there is an afterlife version of Victor lurking about a question mark until later on in the film, while building the tension between Julie and Elizabeth, the romantic angles, and the overall suspense throughout. He is aided appreciably by the outstanding performances from Bissett, who gives a spirited performance that she seems to be reveling in, and Isaaz, who gives a delightful turn and shows fine chemistry with the screen legend. Cinematographer François Ray’s work here is splendid, taking full advantage of the home’s gorgeous set design as well as putting viewers in close with action scenes.
The Lodger calls to mind classic cinema suspense offerings, with a flavoring of Chabrol and Hitchcock but plenty of Drapeau’s own flourishes. It’s a delicious, often eerie slice of cinema well worth seeking out.
The Lodger, from Lightbulb Film Distribution, will be released on Digital Download and on DVD from October 18, 2021.