Tales From the Lodge
Note: this piece is not a standard review of the film ‘Tales from the Lodge’, but a criticism leveled at the industry mechanism that allowed this material to be exhibited at a major festival with no examination of the egregiously offensive nature of the film’s resolution. 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 horror 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 horror film 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 witnessed such a hurtful, homophobic and transphobic smear used in a film, and in such a casual and callous way. It was indeed the afore-mentioned ‘bad trope’ – very common in cinema of the 1960s, 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, to whom the others react badly. 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.
Paul, Jonesy, the lake, The Lodge
It seems 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. During this there are some bizarre throwaway lines that they would have been accepting if only 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. Watching this, 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 1995 documentary 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.
Why would SXSW choose Tales From the Lodge?
And this is the reason for this article: 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 a sex change 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 this 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 in current culture that a film can backpedal in such a terrible way and yet, it somehow goes completely unchecked.
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Adam Ruhl is a writer and life long Cinephile. He is the Executive
Cinema Editor of Pop Culture Beast’s Austin branch; covering festivals,
conventions, and new releases. When not filing reports, Adam can be
found stalking Alamo Drafthouse Programmers for leads on upcoming
DrafthouseFilms titles. Adam once blocked Harry Knowles entrance to a
theater until he was given extra tickets to a Roman Polanski movie.