Abigail Blackmore directs this omnibus horror from the UK.
A group of middle-aged pals gather at a lodge in the woods to celebrate the life of a fallen friend in director Abigail Blackmore's debut feature, Tales From the Lodge. While this basic one-liner for the film is nothing new and has been explored many times before, Blackmore and her team put a fun, gruesome twist on the old formula. Not everything is exactly as it seems in this lodge, and some revelations will have dire consequences.
The group who've joined the event to scatter their dear departed's ashes is a trio of couples who've spent years by each other's sides, with the exception of a single new addition. The old guard consists of Emma (Sophie Thompson), Russell (Johnny Vegas), Martha (Laura Fraser), Joe (Mackenzie Cook), Paul (Dustin Demri-Burns), and the new girl, Miki (Kelly Wenham), who seems to be rubbing Martha the wrong way from the word “go”. Martha takes every chance to needle Paul for his insistence on bringing this new fling into what would otherwise be a very somber event, and soon the film shifts its sympathies to Miki, who appears to feel uncomfortable intruding on such an intimate event.
Blackmore's basic set up for Tales From the Lodge serves as a kind of wraparound for some unusual omnibus style storytelling. Not unlike a series of campfire tales, the various friends take turns catching each other up on their lives with increasingly gruesome and fanciful stories of deadly car accidents, sexy demonic possession, zombie outbreaks, and more. As a way of memorializing their friend, it seems a bit odd at first, but they all seem to accept the fact that he had a bit of a morbid sense of humor so everyone just rolls with the punches.
Between these tales of terror there is the complex interpersonal bickering, not only between Martha and Miki, but also between and amongst the couples who all have their own issues. Blackmore gives these conflicts a chance to breathe in between the often clever and amusing anecdotal stories told by the attendees, however, they aren't really explored in enough detail to justify the kind of crazy reveals that the film drops on the audience in the final act.
Takes From the Lodge follows in the footsteps of the 2018 SXSW favorite, Ghost Stories as a quirky British horror anthology that is more than meets the eye, however, unlike that film, this one is slightly underserved by its central conflicts. There is plenty to enjoy about Tales From the Lodge from a few standout segments – including a demonic possession choreographed to a particularly inspired bit of Iron Maiden – however the whole never seems to outreach the sum of its parts. While I did giggle a few times at the odd outburst of explicit violence once the film made its true meaning clear, it was in spite of, rather than because of a relatively haphazard construction that may have worked better as a series of unconnected shorts, rather than a single experience.
The ensemble cast performs nobly in this slightly underwhelming anthology experience, in spite of the hit-or-miss tonal nature of the film. Interestingly, according to the end credits Blackmore allowed her actors to direct their own anthology segments, which would account for the wildly varying tonal and stylistic elements, however, it was perhaps because of this that the film doesn't quite gel. Tales From the Lodge is an amusing experience, but not quite a home run, though I'll be interested to see what everyone involved comes up with next.