#SXSW ‘Tales from the Lodge’: a horror film marred by deeply homophobic stereotypes

Adam RuhlFilm FestivalLeave a Comment

Authors note: this piece is intended as an editorial and not a review of the film ‘Tales from the Lodge’. While I disagree with the filmmaker’s choices, my criticism is leveled at the industry mechanism that allowed this material to be produced, and then exhibited, at a major festival with no examination of the egregiously offensive nature of the film’s resolution. There are also plot spoilers used as needed to explain the situation.

 

I had heard some rumbling from other festival goers about writer/director Abigail Blackmore’s new feature ‘Tales from the Lodge’. Nothing specific, they described the ending as ‘deeply problematic’ and as using a ‘bad trope’. Knowing nothing else, I sat down to watch what I took to be a fairly standard SXSW Film horror Midnighter. Much of the film was a pretty typical horror comedy, and then it happened, the twist ending.

At first, I could not believe what I had seen and I left the theater in shock. Of the hundreds of films I see each year I had never seen such a hurtful, homophobic and transphobic smear used in a film in such a casual and callous way. It was indeed a bad trope, very common in the 1960’s of the ‘crazy gay/transgender murderer’ whose freakish nature and sexual frustration leads them to kill; but the hateful stereotype had largely died out decades ago. That is until Lodge brought it roaring back to life in all its hideous glory.

Lodge starts with six friends that meet up at a cabin in the woods to spread the ashes of another friend, Jonesy, who drowned there three years earlier. One of the friends, a hunky straight man named Paul, brings a date named Miki that the others react badly to. We go through this whole plot of there maybe being someone in the woods and the cars being sabotaged, etc etc. Finally, we come to the twist where Miki drugs them all and then reveals that Jonesy was gay or possibly transgender and was in love with Paul. Jonesy had tried to lure the Paul to a romantic weekend at the lake alone, but Paul blew him off to have sex with a woman. Jonesy’s response was to go to a bar, find someone, and kill them to fake his own death. Then he goes to Germany and gets a sex change so he can come back as Miki and date Paul as a woman. Now he’s going to kill all six of them for reasons that are never clearly explained. There’s a big fight scene where the group finally get free and fight off Miki, who is seen as homicidally deranged, eventually killing her (there are some bizarre throwaway lines that they would have been accepting if she had told them. As if that would explain or excuse anything that is happening).

This is all shown onscreen and stated in the dialogue. I wanted to think I was overreacting. I wanted to take a breath and calm down and move on, but this stuck with me and it has stuck with other people that have seen the film. It triggered a sick feeling I’ve not had in a long while. It was that old, cheap gag that gay men and transgender people were predatory; a punchline at best and a threat to healthy, straight men and women at worst. The ‘crazy gay villain’ smear gets a whole chapter in Vito Russo’s work the Celluloid Closet and I never thought I would see people like me portrayed as sub-human monsters in this way again, certainly not in 2019 and not at SXSW.

And this is the reason for this editorial, because at no point did anyone involved seem to see a problem with the portrayal. This film was a script that was read by dozens of people and no one must have objected. Then XZY Films got involved to finance and release the film and must have accepted that ending. Then SXSW programmers watched the film that says gay men and transgender people are pathetic creatures that will murder and get sex changes to get at the objects of their lust. They saw nothing problematic with that message and they picked it out of thousands of films to present to audiences.

This film will likely move on to more festivals and then to distribution; many thousands of people might see it. I can’t help but wonder how many of them might be questioning their identity or afraid to be themselves at this time; what will the film say to them?  Lodge marginalizes and demonizes a lot of people and does so needlessly, falling back on a lazy, hurtful trope dressed up as a twist. In the end, it’s disappointing to see that despite all the claims of inclusion and acceptance that a film can backpedal in such a terrible way and it goes completely unchecked.

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Adam Ruhl#SXSW ‘Tales from the Lodge’: a horror film marred by deeply homophobic stereotypes