Though it features a weekend house party with folk who have varied creepy/funny/horrid stories to tell, writer-director Abigail Blackmore’s debut feature is less an anthology movie on the venerable pattern of Dead of Night than a horror comic spin on The Big Chill. Five friends – plus a sixth interloper – gather in a lodge by a lake to scatter the ashes of a departed core group member who has committed suicide, setting up a Big Lebowski joke. Generously – or foolishly, depending on how you look at it – Blackmore lets her key cast take over direction for their inset tall tales, which embeds (mostly funny) sequences in an eclectic style, ranging from a typical urban legend tale of a borrowed car through a farcically sexy ghost/possession story and a parody zombie apocalypse with a nasty twist to a surreal mad medical dream sequence.
It’s obviously a daring move to reunite the stars of the all-too-well-remembered Sex Lives of the Potato Men, but Mackenzie Crook – as the weak-hearted member of the gang – and Johnny Vegas – as a former hellraiser turned tired Dad – manage their own style of comedy (Vegas also plays ‘Kiefer Sutherland or Similar’ in the zombe skit) while blending in with more naturalistic playing from Dustin Demri-Burns as the token smarmy ladykiller, Laura Fraser as a self-declared snippy bitch, Sophie Thompson as a tired Mum who has the most heartfelt speech, and Kelly Wenham in the Meg Tilly tougher-than-she-seems trophy girlfriend role. The plot hinges on the simultaneous presence and absence of the sixth friend, Jonesy (Adam Straughan), and revelations about the circumstances of his death – which also pay off running gags about the door with a trick lock, and the inevitable menace from a possible psycho in the woods.
The resolution of it all goes into controversial territory – though we’ll have to get past the spoiler window to get into the serious arguments everyone will take away from the mostly sweet and silly film. As in the old Amicus anthologies, part of the trick is to cast inherently likeable, appealing, entertaining folks as characters who are initially just small-minded and crotchety but emerge as the plot reveals tumble out as truly horrible. This is a rare recent horror film in which the body count may be too low, since audiences are likely to take against people who don’t really get the come-uppances they deserve as the shaggy dog tale ending wags on into the final blackout. Blackmore, who has done amusing short films, has a real eye for the funny/unsettling image – and also steals a scene with a near wordless bit as the assistant of a big-headed ghost tour guide (Tom Stourton) in the most-achieved of the ‘and now another story’ sidetracks.
Here’s the FrightFest listing.