Tales From The Lodge | Jay Richardson reviews the comedy-horror film that reunites Johnny Vegas and Mackenzie Crook
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Tales From The Lodge

Jay Richardson reviews the comedy-horror film that reunites Johnny Vegas and Mackenzie Crook

The last time Johnny Vegas and Mackenzie Crook appeared in a film together, it was 2004's critically panned Sex Lives Of The Potato Men.

Tales From The Lodge might not banish the memory of that aberration. But it's a risk-taking, collaborative venture that demands respect for writer-director Abigail Blackmore and her chutzpah.

Her debut feature – a portmanteau horror-comedy that leans more towards laughs than scares – is set at a reunion of university friends and  plays like an irreverent, British take on The Big Chill, with the creeping anxieties of middle-age blown up into slasher tale psychosis.

At an isolated lodge, somewhere in rural England, five friends gather to scatter the ashes of their dead mate, Jonesy, who committed suicide at a nearby lake three years ago. Smooth ladies’ man Paul (Dustin Demri-Burns) has brought his latest girlfriend, Miki (Kelly Wenham), much to the irritation of Martha (Laura Fraser), who resents and angrily resists this interloper into their established circle.

Martha's partner Joe (Crook) suffers from a heart condition that he fears is destroying their relationship. Russell (Vegas) and Emma (Sophie Thompson) are just happy to have escaped their kids and are anticipating an alcohol-fuelled holiday.

The group's gallows humour towards Jonesy's passing and their slightly rundown and remote environment is diverted into a desire to entertain each other with ghost stories – presumably a habit from their university days, although it's never expressed as such.

In Paul's story, his affluent lifestyle is turned against him into a frightening ambush; Martha offers a comic, psychosexual saga of a stilted marriage and demonic possession; Joe's is a Lynchian nightmare about his heart, while Russell's takes place in a future zombie apocalypse, with Vegas sporting a Kiefer-Sutherland-in-Lost Boys-style peroxide blond wig. Frazzled Emma simply recounts the horror of her multiple childbirths.

Aside from the additional insights these vignettes betray into the characters, the film's distinctive quirk is that Blackmore relinquishes control to let her actors direct their own tales, for better and worse. Crook, for example, has a real aptitude for staging squirm-inducing, visceral unpleasantness, while Vegas's more spoofy, cartoonish effort has the most satisfying pay-off.

The most successful, though, is Fraser's. Featuring Tom Stourton as a blowhard American guide at a haunted house and Pulling's Cavan Clerkin as a depressed husband, it perhaps best realises the film's desire to evoke laughs while also leaving the viewer unsettled.

The switch in tone and rhythm between the stories is less jarring than one might expect. But as the group become convinced of a maniac lurking outside, a far bigger problem becomes the tales' interplay with the main plot, which is consequently robbed of momentum.

Regardless, the closeness and resentment between the characters is capably conveyed by the dialogue's surface tension, simmering inside the lodge while their imaginations run wild beyond.

There's a solid rate of laughs, grounded in the group's awareness of horror convention, even as they fail to take proper precautions. Crook is especially sympathetic as the one attracting the most pity while retaining his dry sense of humour.

Yet despite the cast's commitment as they spark engagingly off each other, the contrived narrative doesn't really slot together. And the denouement is over-long, weak and predictable. The abiding impression is of an experiment that hasn't quite come off. Tales From The Lodge isn't irredeemable, just more like an early draft that needs considerably more honing.

Tales From The Lodge is released in a few cinemas today and will be available to download or buy on DVD from Monday.

Review date: 1 Nov 2019
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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