Portmanteau horror isn’t something that’s easy to pull off, and those who have attempted it in the past have weighed in with mixed results. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be attempted, however. This style of storytelling, when delivered well, can be a true joy to behold. In the case of Tales from the Lodge, it feels like it’s almost there – similar to an itch you can very nearly reach. It’s good but it falls short of its potential.
Tales from the Lodge is about five pals from university – and one plus-one, who is made to feel instantly unwelcome – going off to spread the ashes of their departed friend, Jonesy. The opportunity to spread Jonesy’s ashes is a break from parental life for Emma (Sophie Thompson) and Russell (Johnny Vegas), while Joe (Mackenzie Crook) has his own bad news for the rest of his friends. Joe’s partner, Martha (Laura Fraser), is more concerned with the fact that Paul (Dustin Demri-Burns) has brought along his new girlfriend, Miki (Kelly Wenham), to this private and personal goodbye to their late friend.
Jonesy committed suicide three years prior to the events of the film. For some reason, they have decided to spread Jonesy’s ashes in the same place he took his life: a secluded house in the woods, four miles from any other human contact. During their stay they tell scary stories to one another. Each character’s story is written and directed by the actor that character is portrayed by, which means the film features some diverse creative choices.
The range of storytelling styles is impressive too, from zombie apocalypses to surreal surgical nightmares and classic slashers. However, the decision to place these stories side by side by writer and director, Abigail Blackmore, comes with a cost as the stories vary in quality and style considerably. The end result is uneven and occasionally quite jarring. Some tales deliver on humour and jumps while others can be tedious, outstaying their welcome. However, the crucial last tale of the film brings with it a well-delivered twist that works to tie the narrative together.
Fans of british comedies will recognise at least one of the starring actors as they are all, for the most part, veterans of the genre. Rarely is a joke mistimed, even if the substance of the joke itself is lacking. All too often, Tales from the Lodge finds itself relying on ‘britishisms’ for its source of humor, causing some of the jokes to feel stale, and causing us to wonder how well this film will do outside of the UK. There are a few genuine moments of out-loud laughter, even if the film does opt for a gentler style of comedy.
Mixing horror and comedy is no easy task. Many have tried, and many have failed. More often than not a genre blend ends up committing further to one than the other, so the list of successes is short. Tales from the Lodge is written like a comedy and delivers most of all on this aspect, even where it’s unnecessary. The film’s scares are incredibly infrequent. However, it is shot like a horror, building tension and creating an eerie atmosphere where it can. The aforementioned twist does make the film more compelling than expected, making a second watch a must even for audience members who didn’t succumb to the film’s charms on first viewing.