The current golden age of horror cinema has been kind to the anthology format, with movies like Tales of Halloween and the V/H/S series proving to be successful among genre fans. The portmanteau tale is certainly a hallmark of British horror in general, so it’s no surprise to see the UK getting in on the new boom with Tales From the Lodge. Pretty much every anthology ever made is a mixed bag, but this one is so mixed that you can’t tell your apples from your oranges, or your fun from your nonsense.
Writer-director Abigail Blackmore brings together an impressive cast of British comedy stalwarts, including Sex Lives of the Potato Men duo Johnny Vegas and Mackenzie Crook, as buddies who make a pilgrimage to the eponymous, slightly grim holiday home. They’re reuniting to pay tribute to their mutual friend Jonesy, who committed suicide at the location a year before. They scatter Jonesy’s ashes – which blowback into their own faces, obviously – and then begin to tell scary stories, as something mysterious and awful seems to be happening to them as well.
The central gimmick of Tales From the Lodge is an interesting one, with Blackmore helming the wraparound narrative and then ceding control of each vignette to the actor telling the story in the narrative. Vegas casts himself as the lead in a zombie apocalypse tale, while another tale follows a ghost hunting trip and yet another focuses on a Lynchian nightmare operation. The tales are frequently interrupted by other characters and there are sly nods to horror conventions throughout. Some of the gags land – there has never been this much product placement for Frazzles in a movie – but many are way off the mark.
Blackmore pitches the film at a weird comedy register throughout, with the relationships between these characters never as believable as they need to be to tell the story. To say that things get ridiculous would be an understatement and a half, culminating in a bananas and troubling twist. The film obviously knows it’s a nonsense of a development, hanging a giant lampshade over it with dialogue about it being “an outdated horror movie cliché”, but that doesn’t stop it from doing it. What happens before the twist is largely mediocre and inoffensive, but it all becomes irrelevant once the twist lands like a giant lead balloon.
But it’s not all bad, for the most part. There is enough talent on the screen here that it can’t help but be at least a little entertaining, with Crook especially finding real depth in his character amid the chaos of the ensemble. Some of the shorts have undeniable style and tension, though their frequent insertion awkwardly saps any momentum from the overall narrative, ensuring that the suspense never truly builds.
The central problem here is that there’s a disconnect between the stylish, but variable stories that form the anthology and the tired wraparound device. Rather than the over-arching story forming a backbone for the vignettes, it seems as if the two elements have been awkwardly stapled together in order to form something that diminishes both of its halves. What’s left is a rather tedious story of some talented comedy performers being locked in a grimy little cabin, desperately in search of something worthwhile to do.
Dir: Abigail Blackmore
Scr: Abigail Blackmore
Cast: Laura Fraser, Dustin Demri-Burns, Mackenzie Crook, Kelly Wenham, Johnny Vegas, Sophie Thompson, Adam Straughan
Prd: Ed Barratt, Richard Wylie
DOP: David Mackie
Music: James Collins
Run time: 89 mins
Tales From the Lodge is out in UK cinemas from 1st November.