Everyone knows that city slickers and the isolated woods don’t work well together. Sometimes it is to comical effect, like in TROOP BEVERLY HILLS, or it can lead to disastrous results, like in DELIVERANCE and most redneck-sploitation films. While the untamed British wilderness has been a menacing backdrop in STRAW DOGS and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON amongst others, it hasn’t been used as much for horror comedies (outside of SEVERANCE). BOYZ IN THE WOOD, from writer/director Ninian Doff, seeks to remedy that with a buddy comedy of city teenagers navigating the treacherous Scottish Highlands. It’s not a brilliant film that works on many levels and will launch a thousand think-pieces on the state of today’s youth. But BOYZ IN THE WOOD is a raucous comedy that harkens back to the dumb shenanigans of UP THE CREEK or the bonding of STAND BY ME crossed over with small town satire seen in HOT FUZZ. It’s incredibly stylish, moves at a quick pace, and is meticulously structured with set ups and pay offs occurring throughout its entire running time.
Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) are all delinquents that have enlisted in the Duke of Edinburgh orienteering forestry challenge to avoid expulsion and severe punishment. Joined by homeschooled Ian (Samuel Bottomley), they must navigate the Scottish Highlands and learn to work as a team in order to reach their destinations. Along the way, they encounter a masked villain, The Duke (Eddie Izzard), who is bedecked in traditional upper class sporting gear and is intent on thinning the herd of the unruly generation. Meanwhile, bumbling cops, led by Sergeant Morag (Kate Dickie), are cold on the trail of what’s going on as their fantasies of full scale gang war outweighs the mundane reality of solving their most pressing case — the local bread thief.
What BOYZ IN THE WOOD does best in its vast array of comic weapons is a whipsmart use of setup, payoff, and callbacks akin to the works of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish that are surprising, energetic, and incredibly rewarding. Little bits and running gags continue to build up momentum and deliver on larger gags as they are expertly deployed in just the right way at the right times. The characters are not deep, and the jokes aren’t particularly inventive, but it is still a fun time seeing dopish delinquents bumble their ways in an unfamiliar environment while beset by evil aristocrats. This is Doff’s first feature film, after a background in music videos, and he instills the movie with lots of great visual style — from creepy masks of The Duke, beautiful vistas and landscapes, and even trippy imagery when hallucinogenic substances are ingested.
Most surprising is that it slowly becomes a clever deliberation on the biases and animosity between Baby Boomers and Millennials. While it’s not a crux of BOYZ IN THE WOOD, it remains a smart undercurrent in a film full of rabbit shit jokes and morons delivering awful rap tracks. BOYZ IN THE WOOD is a great midnighter film because it’s a lot of fun, filled with surprising gore and violence and transgressions, and is a quick dip in and out that will leave audiences smiling as they shuffle off into the late night.
Tags: An American Werewolf In London, Boyz in the Wood, Chemical Brothers, Deliverance, Duke of Edinburgh, Eddie Izzard, Hot Fuzz, Kate Dickie, Lewis Gribben, Miike Snow, Ninian Doff, Rian Gordon, Samuel Bottomley, Scotland SXSW, Severance, Stand By Me, SXSW, SXSW 2019, Troop Beverly Hills, Up The Creek, Viraj Juneja