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CFF Review: Baptiste Drapeau’s ‘The Lodger’ (‘Messe Basse’)

CFF Review: Baptiste Drapeau’s ‘The Lodger’ (‘Messe Basse’)

Baptiste Drapeau’s “The Lodger” is a romantic horror film featuring one of the most captivating and haunting love triangles in cinematic history, that manages to feel like a romantic fantasy while remaining impressively grounded throughout it’s ninety-two minute runtime. A young nursing student named Julie is starting school in Bordeaux, France where she rents a room from a strange but seemingly harmless elderly woman named Elizabeth in exchange for helping take care of her and the house.

Things take a turn for the weird soon after Julie moves in as she discovers that Elizabeth pretends that her deceased husband Victor is still alive and well, and Julie is expected to play along with this charade without question. She laughs it off initially, finding it almost charming in a way, and plays along entirely. She even goes so far as to purchase a medical dummy for Elizabeth to put the clothes Victor “wears” (Elizabeth seemingly moves them around the house all day) on in order to make him seem more real. This is heartwarming for a day or two but soon Julie has a startling interaction with Victor after coming in late one night in a drunken haze; this marks the turning point in Julie’s perception of Victor, and the beginning of what appears to be a… blossoming relationship?

There’s not just slightly frightening drama here though as the tension is razor-sharp at times, especially in the back half, and the filmmakers even manage to squeeze in a couple of highly effective jump scares that are executed with great timing. The performances are really what bring all of this to life though, with Alice Isaaz putting in a highly visceral performance as Julie and Elizabeth being masterfully portrayed by acclaimed international actress Jaqueline Bisset. The script allows them to fully embody these characters, as you’re given a large amount of characterization in the first half to ensure you care about what happens to them. It’s written in such a way that you’re also provided the liberty of choosing who to root for the majority of the film, keeping it fun and unpredictable all the way to the final act. 

The cinematography is gorgeous, with slow panning shots and haunting long takes that really allow the scenes to breathe in addition to letting the suspense build; all of these moments are heightened by a mixture of both romantic and frightening scoring, making for a dreadfully beautiful overall tone. Some may find the pacing a bit slow, especially at first, but if you give it time you’ll almost certainly find yourself captivated by the places this film goes as well as the atmosphere it builds along the way. If this sounds like your kind of affection, you can check out the film on VOD now.