Updated: Nov 15, 2019
Writer/Director: Abigail Blackmore
Starring: Mackenzie Crook, Dustin Demri-Burns, Laura Fraser, Sophie Thompson, Johnny Vegas, Kelly Wenham & Adam Straughan.
A group of friends are visiting a woodland lodge to cast the ashes of their mate "Jonesy," who apparently drowned himself in the nearby lake a few years ago. I say “apparently” because anyone watching the opening credits will be able to tell that something of a more murderous bent seems to have occurred. It’s taken a while to get their schedules cleared so that they were all free at the same time, what with work, kids and just life, in general, getting in the way but better late than never I guess, as they are all here now.
This was supposed to be a gathering of friends though, a time for reflection and remembrance on Jonesy’s passing. So some of the group are a little miffed that Paul (Dustin Demri-Burns) has brought his new girlfriend Miki (Kelly Wenham) with him. Although the majority don’t mind, Martha (Laura Fraser) really takes a dislike to her. Miki didn’t know Jonesy, so as far as Martha is concerned, that means that Miki shouldn’t be there and she has no problem in making sure that Miki is aware of that fact. Things don’t help when nearly everyone keeps calling her Niki, by mistake and she gets understandably upset when they constantly get her name wrong or when Martha is just bitchy with her from the get-go.
Still, it’s not all bad with the group as they settle in to remember Jonesy, have a few drinks, get a little high (if anyone actually brought any weed with them that is) and maybe decorate a few cupcakes.
There's a wonderful rapport with the cast that really conveys that sense of friendship and evn when things don't go right, such as the botch job of spreading Jonesy's ashes, the group find cause to laugh and enjoy the moment.
The other thing that they are going to do over the few days at the lodge, is tell each other a few scary/silly stories, hence the title of the film.
As they share their stories however, it turns out that something is going on nearby and for all of the fun and frivolity, their lives may actually be in very real danger.
Tales From the Lodge is a British flick with a cast that most UK residents will recognise immediately. Most non-British audiences will probably recognise Mackenzie Crook from things like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Office, or if you’re a theatre goer from the stage adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in which he played the role of Billy Bibbit. Laura Fraser has appeared in Breaking Bad and comedian Johnny Vegas pops up on must comedy panel shows. I’m not going to list everyone’s previous roles and achievements but even if you don’t recognise the names, you’re bound to recognise a few faces (even if it is only to go “oh, that’s whastherface from the telly”).
Some of the humour/accents may not be as accessible to viewers not familiar with some of our terminologies and idiolects, but I had a great time watching this movie. Although, oddly enough, there was a very distinct lack of anyone putting the kettle on and making a cuppa. That happens in nearly every British horror movie in times of strife so it was odd not to see it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to see every Brit suddenly put the kettle on but when Jonny Vegas had a brief stint advertising a well-known tea brand, I really did expect to see a little reference to that. I dealt with the dilemma though when I paused the movie halfway through to make one myself just to bring back some equilibrium, a balance to the force, as it were.
Anyhow, enough about tea, let’s get back to the movie.
The story is good and well-directed and I was actually surprised & a little impressed to see during the end credits that even though Abigail Blackmore is the writer/director of the movie, each of the little tales that the charterers tell, were actually directed by them too. So, Johnny Vegas’ brilliant tale in which he’s Kiefer Sutherland (or similar), was actually directed by him for example. I thought that was a nice little touch and also quite clever on the part of Abigail Blackmore because a fundamental part of the British ethos is, “get some other cunt to do it for you.” So good on her for passing off some of her directing duties onto others.
Seriously though, it was a clever idea and gave each segment its own tone and feel that worked really well. The only downside that I can really think of is that the humour often overshadowed the horror. For example in the tale being told by Paul, there’s a scene where he’s walking to an old barn and as we see him cautiously walking over, the audio is interrupted by one of his friends asking what happened next and Paul informing them that nothing is happening yet, he’s still walking. As we see the character slowly, nervously walk ever closer, the story is interrupted again when someone asks if he’s got there yet. These moments work really well and are pretty funny, but they do detract from the potential horror.
All the little tales were fun though and although Joe’s (Mackenzie Crook) piece seemed to be the shortest and least funny, it had a great little pay off that bled over into the reality of the characters in the lodge them really made it worth-while and it was nice to see the real pay-off being outside of the tale that the character told.
Personally, I really liked the movie and as a fan of Johnny Vegas in particular, as soon as I saw the trailer with him playing as Kiefer Sutherland (or similar) I was hooked. That’s not too say that I’m not fans of the other actors, I am, but that scene, in particular, is what drew me to this movie.
I sat and watched it on my own so that I could get it reviewed and once it had finished, I immediately thought that I needed to watch it again later that evening with my wife because I knew that she’d enjoy it as much as I did.
I would like to address one thing though and that’s the final act of the movie. Now, I’m not going into spoilers, so don’t worry about that, but there has been some criticism around the supposed negative portrayal of a certain group of people. I would like to say that in my opinion, that is a load of old bollocks. So what if a certain person is evil or a murderer in a movie/book/TV show or whatever? That’s not demonising a certain group or individual, it's broadening the spectrum and actually breaking stereotypes. If you want certain folks only portrayed in a way that suits your jaded and idealistic views of the world then you’re very deluded indeed. There is good in bad in everyone regardless of skin colour/sexual orientation/religion/whether you’re a dog or a cat person. So, for fuck sake, everyone lighten up and stop finding hate or bigotry where none exists in the first place.
OK. I’ll get down from my soapbox now I've got that off my chest.
This is a fun British comedy that I thoroughly enjoyed and in which everyone involved did a great job with their characters and the performances all felt natural. It helped to convey that these were a group of friends and that even if they hadn’t seen each other for a while, they easily fall into synch with one another in a way that felt believable. I’m sure you all have friends like that. Someone that you maybe only see once a year, maybe less, but when you do it’s as though no time has passed at all and you easily fall into step with one another.
And that’s what this film was like. An old friend that you hadn’t seen in a while but you feel comfortable and relaxed in their presence. Like an old friend, once they’ve left you think back on the good time you had in their company and look forward to seeing them again. And that’s a good feeling to get from a movie and as I sit here writing about it, I find that I want to watch it again just to spend more time in the company and antics of all those involved.
Sure there are more laughs than horror in the movie but that doesn’t matter, because we all need to relax and just sit back, forget about our worries for a bit and have fun.