There’s just something special that happens when British filmmakers blend a genre film with comedy. Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto” trilogy alone delivered mightily on the horror (Shaun of the Dead, 2004), action (Hot Fuzz, 2007), and sci-fi (The World’s End, 2013) fronts, but he’s far from the only mad filmmaker from the UK who finds big laughs and genre thrills work best when mashed together. England has been churning them out for decades, Ireland has the creature feature Grabbers (2012), and Scotland burst out of the gates strong with Anna and the Apocalypse (2017). That last blast of big laughs and bloody spurts now has some competition in the new Scottish horror/comedy Boyz In the Wood, and while it lacks Anna‘s song and dance numbers it makes room for funny banter, physical comedy, and lots of deadly mayhem.
Four teens head into the Scottish Highlands for a camping trip competition inspired by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Three of the boys are tight friends — Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and the self-anointed DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) — tackling the trip as an alternative to being punished for having burned down a bathroom. Ian (Samuel Bottomley), though, volunteered, and has been assigned to round out the quartet as he has no friends of his own. Their guardian, Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris), drops them off with plans to reconnect at a campsite a few miles away, but the boys find trouble before they’ve even crossed a single field. Someone is watching them. Someone is hunting them. And someone has plans on culling the herd of interlopers. (It’s the same someone.)
Writer/director Ninian Doff delivers a wildly satisfying genre blast about underdogs out of their element, and while the hills run red in Boyz In the Wood they do so with a rhythmic beat built equally on laughs and music. Doff pairs his attitude-filled foursome with an energetically captivating style that won’t surprise fans of his music video collaborations with Miike Snow (“My Trigger”), The Chemical Brothers (“Sometimes I Feel So Deserted”), and others. The setting may be the sparsely populated hills of rural Scotland, but the landscape pumps with life thanks to these wrong side of the track teens… and it pumps with death courtesy of an older, wealthier generation that gets its kicks from hunting human prey. While the title is an obvious riff on John Singleton’s far more somber Boyz n the Hood (1991) the film retains its core message of fast friends struggling against society’s expectations. There’s just a lot more rabbit shite this time around.
We’re initially teased with three of the boys being right dicks, but rather than make them unlikable punks the script and performances instead endear us to all four in record time. Dean is the group’s leader of sorts if only because he’s the one who scored some suspicious hash for the trip into the “high” lands. Suspicious because it’s not hash, it’s somewhat explosive, and it might just result in its users tripping balls. Duncan isn’t quite leader material, but he’ll follow his friends into the maws of hell provided there’s the promise of idiocy-fueled mischief along the way. DJ is due for an epiphany that hip hop stars probably shouldn’t name themselves after vegetables, but until then he’s a proud rapper spewing an endless series of songs about his dick. Everyone starts somewhere. Ian, meanwhile, just wants friends and the trophy that comes with completing the trip, but while he’s an outcast at the outset he’s quickly folded in by the group. All four deliver laughs and hero moments despite their worst efforts, and half of the film’s joy comes in watching their plans backfire and yet still succeed spectacularly.
The adults are every bit as ridiculous and entertaining whether they’re elites stalking teens on horseback or backcountry coppers in pursuit or terrorists, bread thieves, and zombies. Kate Dickie‘s Sergeant Morag is the rural cousin to Hot Fuzz‘s Andys as she infuses her police work with anger and absolutely wrong certainty, and while her narrative thread takes a backseat to the boys time spent with these country cops is equally bonkers and fun. No one here is all that bright, but rather than point a finger identifying any of them as stupid the film embraces each and every one of them with equal parts humor and humanity.
Doff’s film is almost unrelentingly silly as it tosses spunky but unprepared teens into their own most dangerous game, but it still manages to find thrills and heart amid the hillsides and bloodshed. Toss in appearances by Eddie Izzard and Alice Lowe, a script that ties up even the smallest of loose threads in perfectly ridiculous ways, and a soundtrack that keeps the energy up, and Boyz In the Wood becomes an incredibly fun piece of entertainment guaranteed to appeal to fans of youth-infused genre fare like Attack the Block (2011) and blackly comic romps like Sightseers (2012). The boys may or may not complete the Duke’s challenge, but sometimes the only trophy the matters is the friends we make (and the wealthy pricks we kill) along the way.