Horror anthology films have a pretty solid reputation of being overall, pretty hit and miss. No matter how interesting of a premise – VHS tapes found in an abandoned building or a horror guide to the ABC’s – they routinely unearth one or two gems in a collection of otherwise poor efforts. Abigail Blackmore’s debut effort Tales from the Lodge is one other such painfully average addition.
This anthology focuses on a group of old university friends that have a reunion out in a forest-surrounded lodge to scatter the ashes of their friend Jonesy (Adam Straughan), who drowned himself in the lake nearby. The group consists of some well-known British comedic chops, there’s Johnny Vegas playing Russell and The Office’s Mackenzie Crook as Joe (who is on a wait list for a heart transplant), then their respective on-screen partners Emma (Sophie Thompson) and Martha (Laura Fraser). There’s also Paul (Dustin Demri-Burns), the only one of the group originally thought to be single, who has unfortunately decided to drag along his new girlfriend Miki (Kelly Wenham) who is less than happy about the idea of sitting in a cabin mourning someone she’s never met.
Miki is instantly a cause for concern and bad vibes central as the rest of the group feel that its unfair for her to be attending their memorial reunion. Given her constant complaining she is less than thrilled when the group begin to share scary stories after scattering Jonesy’s ashes. Now, I’ll admit, up until around the third story I was left completely unaware that this was in fact an anthology film, which left the film feeling quite disjointed as it runs back and forth between spooky stories and the group debating their own woes and upsets back in the lodge.
The reason for this being that each story is directed by the actor telling it –undoubtedly one of the more interesting features of the film− meaning that they all vary in in style, tone and visuals. They also each entertain a new sub-genre of horror, be it Joe’s body-horror tale of being awake during scientific experiments on his own body or the demonic possession, serial killer and zombie movies that make up the rest of the series. The zombie short is that of Johnny Vegas, who imagines himself as a Keifer Sutherland type running wild during a zombie apocalypse. In true Vegas fashion its quintessentially British, tongue in cheek and a bit naff in the best possible way.
There are definitely moments of great comic relief in Tales From the Lodge, from Vegas’ Keifer Sutherland to the sex demon to the moment they scatter Jonesy’s ashes and the wind blows them back in their face, but Blackmore’s film also seems so muddled by the many voices directing it that the tone feels uneven, the short films simply not working well alongside each other.
Blackmore tries to root more horror back at the lodge as the group believe there to be somebody out in the woods threatening them, this story plays along with the spooky tales and comes to a head in a truly awful finale, one that gives way to some offensive and harmful horror tropes of old that are certainly past the point of being funny or shocking.
Coming in at just over 90 minutes, it’s a surprise that Tales from the Lodge feels so crawlingly long for a film split down into multiple bite-size sections. It often feels like you’re waiting for something to happen, trawling through the stories to find out what’s really happening in the lodge −after all, they’re in a creepy location for a reason− but the ending leaves nothing but a sour taste in the mouth and a feeling of dissatisfaction.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here