IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 104 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Don Wallace is none too happy when his mother secures him a last-minute bed at the notoriously tough boarding school Slaughterhouse School, especially when the bed is that of a former pupil who committed suicide. At the bottom of the hierarchy, he befriends his roommate Willoughby Blake, falls in love with Clemsie Lawrence, and makes a bad impression on sadistic prefect Clegg. However, this is nothing compared to what’s happening in the forest nearby, where fracking has unearthed “a portal, a gateway that leads straight to hell”– and a previously undiscovered species of not-very-friendly animal….
The trailer, quite frankly, didn’t do a good job of convincing that Slaughterhouse Rulez was going to be much good, and the idea of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost being in the same movie is no longer an enticing one. And call me old fashioned but I’m prone to disliking a film right away if it misspells its title to try to seem a bit “cool”. But against the odds, Slaughterhouse Rulez is a quite likable effort, rather ramshackle and misshapen as it throws together If meets St Trinian’s boarding school malarky, ‘B’ creature feature thrills, and very timely anti-fracking propaganda, along with several sub-themes notably the very currently familiar common one of the difficulties of being homosexual in certain environments. I hope I don’t sound homophobic [because I most certainly am not] if I say that I’m rather tiring of the latter. But the film also has a considerable degree of charm – something that’s sorely lacking in similar films of today – and which for me raised it above some other comedy horror films of late, though it’s not really trying to be an out-and out-comedy horror and will probably disappoint you if that’s what you expect. It’s half way through before we even meet the monsters, while the jokes are more likely to cause a smile rather than a chuckle. Nor is it trying to be the next installment in the Cornetto trilogy [though it’s much better than The World’s End]. However, it’s quirky and pleasant, the cast are all good value and seem to be having a whale of a time, and it feels about as British as you can get these days without giving us a load of patriotic fluff.
Plucky Northern lad Don is probably inspired by Eggsy in the Kingsman films, but Finn Cole, if not quite as charismatic as Taron Egerton, still manages to have enough down-to-earth likability except for his incessant use of the f*** word which I could have done without, it just seemed a bit out of place in this particular film. Slaughterhouse School is a place which turns out to make the out of touch politicians and greedy CEO’s we all dislike, a place where a kid like Don, and anybody with some kind of individuality, difference or even morality, seems out of place and engaged in an uphill struggle to even survive let alone flourish. Considering how much time the film spends in the school, it’s perhaps disappointing that it doesn’t seem to offer an opinion on boarding schools besides them being really bad, though there’s possibly some commentary on how public schools that were originally for the privileged white male elite to be shoehorned into their roles of leading the country have had to reluctantly adapt itself to accepting girls and foreign students. But along with obvious stuff such as a lead actress whose first name is Hermione and a photograph of Malcolm McDowell, it’s nice to see little jokey references to the more obscure likes of Wittering, Unman and Zigo as well as nods to more familiar material like Goodbye Mr Chips and Harry Potter. Don’s roommate Willoughby seems to be hiding a secret that’s painfully obvious after just ten minutes, but at last Asa Butterfield is able to give us a performance that’s as good as his terrific turns in Hugo and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, since which he’s disappointed. Here, he seems to possess a depth beyond his 21 years. I guess he’s one of those actors who needs to really “feel” a role to do it justice.
Of course there’s a bully and a love interest who seems to already have a boyfriend – only for this potential source of conflict to be thrown away. The film does this at times – introduce things and then do little with them. The screenplay by Crispian Mills and Henry Fitzherbert just wants to cram in too much, but at least every cast member gets to shine. Michael Sheen is enjoyably camp as the headmaster who may just be connected to the fracking that’s going on virtually on his garden [it’s made obvious so early on that this hardly counts as a spoiler]. Nick Frost does his best Nick Frost impersonation as Woody, a drug-dealing-and-taking leader of a bunch of eco-protestors. Simon Pegg, never an actor who I’ve warmed to, is surprisingly touching as ineffectual housemaster Meredith Houseman, taking to the booze to get over a love he seems to be losing. And Jane Stanmess makes every moment of her limited screen time count as the decidedly odd Matron despite some rather overdone makeup. Pretty much everyone concerned does their best to make up for some rather awkward story telling at times in the first half and even some treating of viewers as idiots, with flashbacks to scenes that just occurred a few minutes before, and far too many lines of foreshadowing dialogue about being eaten alive or things ending in a bloody mess. But to partly compensate, I found certain things to be a pleasant difference in this day and age, like most of our young heroes and a sympathetic adult character actually smoking. Quick, call the PC police!
It’s perhaps a bit disappointing that this supposed portal to hell just throws up an undiscovered species of animal instead of something scarier. And the minute that Frost’s character was introduced as a recreational drug user I had a strong inkling that there would soon be a scene in which he’s “on” something and unaware of carnage going on around him. But it’s hard not to get behind our motley crew as they try to defend the school – now almost empty because everybody else has been allowed to go home – against the creatures. Of course the most prominent female character is shown to be more resourceful and tougher than all the men, because this is 2018 and this kind of reverse sexism is all the rage. On the other hand there’s a curious moment which has probably got some of our more right-on critics fuming with indignation. Clemsie kills a critter by taking off her blouse and bashing it to death with it, so the camera and co-stars can ogle her exposed body [though don’t worry sensitive types, you don’t see her breasts]. I’m actually surprised given today’s climate that the scene was left in the movie, but I commend the filmmakers for doing so. It’s just harmless fun and a little reminder of the days when such a scene was deemed necessary in a certain kind of film.
Considering how large a part the monsters play in the second half it’s odd that we don’t really get a good look at the lizard-like things, though at least we get some decent gore effects both practical and digital [and guess which ones look better?]. It’s rather a shame that big Hollywood movies are now obsessed with CGI so much that other ways of doing things have fallen by the wayside, but at least smaller, more independent films are doing their best to keep the old ways going. A few moments seem truncated, as if they originally went for an ‘18’ rated film that had an Evil Dead/Re-animator-type crazy excess about it with regard to the gore. But there’s enough thrills to satisfy most out for a good time even if things never get as frightening as you want to them to, and there are several moments when somebody is so obviously positioning themselves in front of a window or some other place where they can easily be grabbed.
Crispian Mills, who previously directed the hugely underrated black comedy A Fantastic Fear Of Everything, brings considerable zest to the piece though some scenes are cut together rather incoherently in what’s probably intended as an imitation of Edgar Wright’s editing style, and sadly ugly ‘shakycam’ is occasionally resorted to, resulting in some incoherence in a few places. But overall the first feature to come from Stolen Pictures, a production company created by Pegg and Frost, may be nothing special but is certainly okay fun with a few things to say along the way and with a bit more individuality than your increasingly bland Hollywood blockbuster. For everything that’s hackneyed or fails to come off, there’s a nice surprise, inspired or even touching moment to make up for this. It seems that the critics aren’t liking it much, while it hasn’t made much of a dent in the UK box office either, but I have the feeling that it’ll find more of an audience once it hits home viewing, as it’s certainly a decent party movie.