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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.18.19] United Kingdom horror action comedy thriller

An affectionate riff on Deliverance by way of John Hughes and featuing a hip-hop soundtrack, Boyz in the Wood follows the ill-fated camping trip of four teenage boys attempting to complete their Duke of Edinburgh training award scheme in the Scottish Highlands, where they become prey to a pair of psychotic upper-class hunters. With nothing more than a fork, some instant soup and a lump of hash, they must work together to defend themselves, and, hopefully, pass their course.

Comedy-horror films often live or die on whether or not they can balance humor and scares. Boyz in the Wood doesn't really aim for this formula though, being far too good-natured and goofy in tone; while there is a smattering of gore, the film contains almost no sense of peril, tension or suspense. It does, however, succeed admirably as a knockabout comedy with some genuinely funny moments.
The film is at its strongest when it freewheels out of control, at its weakest when it resorts to prosaic 'coming-of-age' moments - and there are many examples of both.

There is a scene around the midway point as one of the boys delivers an impromptu hip-hop performance to a crowd of shrooming farmers in a barn, while his friends snort powdered chocolate like it's cocaine and two police officers, convinced the group are an 'urban gang of paedophile drug dealing terrorists', madly give chase. At this moment the film hits stride and feels fresh and funny, a wild momentum driving it along with left field gags and an agreeably uninhibited sense of craziness to proceedings.

Where the film falls down is in an occasional creeping sense of the familiar which inveigles its way into quieter scenes, as we begin to feel the writer prodding us with a conventional message. Each of the boys fits a certain trope. Nerdy Ian is home-schooled and wants to be accepted by his new friends, dimwitted Duncan would like to prove that he can be smart once in a while, Dean resents his working-class roots, while DJ works hard to convince the world (and himself) that he's an authentically 'street' hip-hop artist and not simply a middle-class twit.

Of course, the guys will learn and grow and come together despite their differences, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that - and the young actors acquit themselves perfectly well in their roles - we have been here so, so many times before. Perhaps a side-effect of the more ambitious and chaotic, almost punk elements of the film working so well is that the inevitable teen-movie cliches feel somewhat pat.

The film features an astonishing supporting cast including Eddie Izzard and Georgie Glen as the insane aristocrats, as well as Kate Dickie, James Cosmo and Alice Lowe, all thoroughly enjoying themselves. (Lowe delivers a moving and passionate monologue about the importance of bread.) Writer-director Ninian Doff keeps things moving at a good pace, and the script is peppered with memorable one-liners, of which my favourite: "Everybody knows the Duke of Edinburgh isn't real - he's basically like Santa Claus."

Boyz in the Wood is essentially undemanding fun, and while it stumbles occasionally, it's hard to come down on a film which just wants to make you laugh for 90 minutes. A fairly solid thumbs up from me.

Recommended Release: Doghouse

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