“Bullshit!” says Martha (Laura Fraser) in Tales From The Lodge, “It’s not true.” She has just heard Paul (Dustin Demri-Burns) tell a slasher-like story to explain why he does not currently have his Mercedes – but the story is too irrational and too unresolved to command any credibility.
A quintet of old university friends – Martha and her heart-diseased husband Joe (Mackenzie Crook), happily married parents of three Emma (Sophie Thompson) and Russell (Johnny Vegas), and lady’s man Paul have all assembled at an isolated lakeside holiday home to remember their friend Jonesy, and to send him off by scattering his ashes in the lake where, three years earlier, he drowned himself. Along for the weekend, and struggling to fit into this tight-knit group, is Paul’s latest girlfriend Miki (Kelly Wenham), to whom Martha has taken an instant dislike. The set-up is not unlike Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill (1983), as these friends reunited drink and fuck and argue, and contemplate where their lives have led them, all under the shadow of Jonesy’s death. The big difference, though, made clear by the opening animated credits sequence, is that the drowning was not so much suicide as murder. Amid all the booze and banter, cooking and cake-eating, there may well be a killer at Jonesy’s wake.
Key to this feature debut from writer/director Abigail Blackmore is the first word of its title. For, to while away the time that they are spending together, these characters tell each other tall tales and true – all genre-bound, and all wildly varied in content (if unified by their schlubbily lo-fi aesthetic). There is a marital relationship given new spark by ghostly possession. There is a loving father caught up in a future zombie apocalypse. There are Frankenstein-like reveries on monstrous surgery. And there is the real body horror of pregnancy and childbearing. These tales – each directed by the actor who plays the narrating character, and each absurdly subverted by a chorus of commentary from the other characters – reflect and reveal, through their fictions, their tellers’ real anxieties, as well as obliquely encapsulating the themes of Blackmore’s broader narrative.
Make no mistake: while this episodic structure and these interpolated anecdotes may place Tales From The Lodge in a long tradition of British omnibus horror, the framing story is never forgotten, and comes with its own aggressions and impostures. For in and around this lodge, an old-fashioned murder mystery will gradually take shape, with a very modern twist – and any cliché on display is there merely to be knowingly ironised, in what is an amusing genre-savvy take on familiar horror tropes. Here bullshit is just the costume and makeup used to cover what these old pals have been hiding and denying for years – and when the submerged truth finally resurfaces, a painful kind of hilarity ensues.
© Anton Bitel