TALES FROM THE LODGE **** UK 2019 Dir: Abigail Blackmore. 93 mins
The best joke in this seriocomic horror portmanteau is the central concept of five reunited uni friends failing to bring any drugs to their rare night away from ho-hum grown-up lives – and instead settling for “drinking, swearing and getting a good night’s sleep”. Frazzles, quiche, cheap lager and cupcakes are now as wild as they get. The friends are gathered at the lodge to scatter the ashes of a friend who committed suicide, and the reunion exposes frailties: Mackenzie Crook is approaching 40 by munching eight pills a day as he waits for a heart transplant; his wife (Laura Fraser) has an unhealthy resentment for the latest trophy girlfriend (Kelly Wenham) dragged along by ageing lothario Dustin Demri-Burns and married couple Johnny Vegas and Sophie Thompson are just pleased to have a reprieve from the demands of parenthood. To pass the time, each member of the group tells a spooky / horrific tale that, in a neat touch, is directed by the actor telling the story.
This nods affectionately to the beloved Amicus anthologies with its stories of nightmarish hospital basements, a dead woman on a car bonnet, an speculative “classic zombie apocalypse” (with Vegas hilarious as “80’s Kiefer Sutherland…or similar”) and an unhappily married couple’s dull sex life rejuvenated by a horny evil spirit. It’s also punctuated by a convincing array of festering grudges, petty jealously and spunkily delivered exchanges of insults. There’s genuine chemistry between the actors, and the more juvenile humour not only reflects a group of characters reluctant to grow up but is importantly balanced with pathos. The script by director Blackmore offers perceptive observations of middle-age’s unwelcome onslaught of debilitating illness, ill-suited younger girlfriends, tragic leftover 1980’s nostalgic wish fulfilment, unadventurous shagging and deeply sarcastic cupcake eating. The big plot twist has fun with a self-reflexive riff on an 80’s slasher trope, but it’s the performances that satisfy the most: sharp-tongued Sophie Thompson steals it with a showstopping monologue in which her frank insight into multiple pregnancies proves more horrific than the more conventional “horror” stories surrounding her.
Review by Steven West