On the surface of it, a British portmanteau horror-comedy starring some well-known faces like Johnny Vegas and McKenzie Crook should be a sure-fire winner. And as Tales from the Lodge was unveiled at Frightfest 2019, immediate reactions were positive.
When five, old university friends meet at a remote lodge by a lake to remember the sixth of their group after his suicide the sombre atmosphere quickly shifts to one of agitation when Paul (Dustin Demri-Burns arrives with his uninvited new beau, Miki. Martha (Laura Fraser) in particular is angered by the fact that this stranger has appeared at what should be a very personal event, and the rest of the group quickly turns to booze to overcome the awkwardness and begin the reminiscence.
But rather than dwell on days gone by, soon the group finds themselves sharing scary stories to pass the time, taking the viewer on various (short) journeys into the minds of each character.
Before long though, the party realises that something scary is also going on at the lodge as hidden being makes itself known and proceeds to torment them, trapping them in their isolated location.
Tales from the Lodge has some good ingredients. The idea is palatable, the cast (as mentioned before) is strong and capable, and it’s high quality in terms of how it has been produced, a personal high point being when Russell (Johnny Vegas) stars in his own story, styled as an older, larger Kieffer Sutherland from the Lost Boys era.
But something falls short. Somehow the leads just aren’t that easy to connect with. The short stories (along with being too short) don’t quite land, and the wrap around tale that should be the glue holding everything together isn’t interesting, exciting or funny enough to keep the viewer gripped.
Making a horror-comedy is always a dangerous game, particularly when it tries to be subtle, which feels like the angle with Tales from the Lodge. It feels like a film in conflict, trying to offer realism, serious tones, terror and humour. And all in a short space of time. The end result leaves you unsure of what to feel.
There are so many similarly styled films that manage to achieve a much better balance, most notably Ghost Stories. And it can be frustrating when others follow but fail when there are already strong examples leading the way.
At times, the film shows a glimmer of promise with a good shot, nice twist in a short story or well delivered line, but sadly it’s not enough to salvage the whole.
As a result, Tales from the Lodge resigns itself to being a film won’t make you laugh, jump or give you goose bumps. A mediocre, multi-layered package that offers you sustenance – a bit like a lasagne. But when was the last time you got excited about having a lasagne?