30th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Tales From the Lodge’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Mackenzie Crook, Laura Fraser, Sophie Thompson, Johnny Vegas, Kelly Wenham, Dustin Demri-Burns | Written and Directed by Abigail Blackmore

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A group of middle-aged friends gather at a remote lodge to honour a friend who recently drowned in a nearby lake. With emotions running high, everyone makes the most of a gloomy situation by celebrating the best way they know how: swapping silly, scary stories that would have earned a giggle from their dearly departed pal. Urban legends about a masked slasher, a paranormal ghost hunt and a post-apocalyptic wasteland soon lose their fun shock value as the sextet become stuck in a true terror tale that exposes dark secrets no one could have possibly foreseen.

Tales From the Lodge continues the very British tradition of the portmenteau horror – a genre that is synonymous with the UK horror industry of the 60s and 70s, companies like Hammer, Amicus and Tigon, and films like Tales From the Crypt, Torture Garden and Asylum. In more recent years the anthology has become more of an American genre trope with film like V/H/S and Trick r Treat – the latter of which writer/director Abigail Blackmore’s film resembles the most. I say resembles as Tales From the Lodge, whilst it does follow the long-standing tradition of characters telling stories, also feels more organic in the same way Michael Dougherty’s 2007 film was. However unlike a myriad of portmanteau, or anthology, films before it I doubt ANYONE would have seen the twist in this films tale coming!

With a cast of familiar faces from movies and TV and a sensibility that mixes gallows humour with the kinds of class comedy (as in working and upper classes) that has proliferated British film and television for years, Tales From the Lodge is more fun than fearful for the most part. Even when its tales of terror are told they border more on the humourous, really pushing the dark humour of the situation to the forefront, in a very British way of course. But then that should be expected with a cast such as this – most of whom have plenty of experience in comedy, especially of the situational variety.

Where Tales From the Lodge succeeds most is in its short stories. Sex demons, the non-appearance of Kiefer Sutherland and some fourth wall breaking are what will stick with you long after the film ends. The latter in particular is a brilliant choice by writer/director Abigail Blackmore – to see characters in a narrated tale stop when said narrator pauses and look in to the camera as if to say get on with it makes for a very funny moment… And then there’s Sophie Thompson’s tale, which isn’t so much a story as a diatribe about how hard it is to be a mother!

If the shorts in this film make for funny viewing, its the wraparound story that provides the real meat of this movie. Slowly evolving over the course of the 90-minute runtime, Tales From the Lodge‘s wraparound is where the horror of this film lies – with a reveal that is both shocking and somehow makes total sense given the behaviour of this cast of characters, in particular Dustin Demri-Burns’ Paul. The conclusion leaves things open for a possible sequel and, given how well this portmanteau turned out, it’s one I’d be very interested to see; especially if writer/director Blackmore can gather another fantastic ensemble of British talent.

**** 4/5

Tales From the Lodge screened on Monday August 26th as part of the 2019 Arrow Video Frightfest.

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