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Slaughterhouse Rulez (15)

Director: Crispian Mills

Screenplay: Crispian Mills

Starring: Margot RobbieMichael SheenSimon Pegg 

Review: David Stephens

When “The World’s End” was released in 2013, it marked the last chapter in Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy”. The triumvirate of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Wright had crafted three great genre comedies that paid homage to zombies, violent police-thrillers, and alien invasion films. These movies (and if you don’t know the other two… you should be ashamed of yourself!) gently mocked the tropes in those sub-genres, but with genuine affection and respect for their inspirations. Since then the “Three Cornett-teers” (not official title, we just made it up) have all gone on to various other film and TV projects. Whilst Wright is absent, “Slaughterhouse Rulez” marks a return to the comedy-horror sector for both Pegg and Frost, being the first film from Stolen Picture (the production company formed by them). It’s directed and co-written by Crispian Mills, who also performed the same duties on Pegg’s 2012 warped comedy “A Fantastic Fear of Everything”. (NB: For trivia fans, Mills was also the frontman for 90s indie rock band Kula Shaker, and is the grandson of iconic British actor Sir John Mills… don’t say you don’t learn anything from us!). Whilst a U.S. release date is still to be confirmed, the film opened across the U.K. on Halloween. So YGROY goes back to school, but we don’t need no education… 

Don Wallace (Finn Cole from “Peaky Blinders”) is sent to the famous British boarding school “Slaughterhouse” by his ambitious mother. He’s wildly unimpressed with the bullying culture and class-related hierarchy in the classroom. But he does make friends with dour roommate Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield), and falls instantly for school hottie Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield). Don’s schooldays are complicated by the presence of “Terrafrack”, whose dodgy fracking operation has been sanctioned by the Headmaster (played by the ubiquitous Michael Sheen, and only ever known as “The Bat”). Their actions cause a large sinkhole to open up in the woods in the school grounds, allowing mythical subterranean creatures access to the surface once again. It’s down to the pupils and remaining teachers to escape a fate worse than detention… 
To all intents and purposes, the plot sounds like it could have been a fun mixture of a vicious school satire (like Lindsay Anderson’s “If”) and an underground monster opus like “The Burrowers” (the underrated 2008 horror-western, not the whimsical TV show and films about da’ liddle peeple). But unfortunately, despite the material and talent being there, it never really becomes anything more than a lower-case “St Trinians” meets “Attack the Block”. It also feels like a game of two halves, with the first part of the plot pretty much concentrating on the antiquated private school system (with obvious broader analogies to British society and the class divide), with the occasional pot-shot at the fracking business and suchlike. The second half goes full comedy-horror with plenty of limbs ripped off and gory mutilations of some of the cast, as well as the creatures themselves. But much of the satire and humour is hit-or-miss, and the genre elements almost feel like DLC to the main story (like the zombie levels of “Call of Duty”).

The main problem is that it hits occasional levels of greatness that it can’t consistently sustain. The location work is excellent at times. The extremely photogenic Stowe School (located in glorious Buckinghamshire, U.K.) stands in for “Slaughterhouse” and provides a great backdrop to the proceedings. One fantastic aerial drone shot sees a group of pupils flee through the grounds at twilight and it looks awesome. The Chislehurst Caves (in Kent, U.K.) are used well for the climatic scenes and evoke some atmosphere. The cast also acquit themselves well, with Cole and Butterfield standing out particularly. But despite the odd moment (mostly seen in the trailers), Sheen and Pegg feel underused. Sheen seems to be channelling Kenneth Williams to some extent (who he played in “Fantabulosa!”) and Pegg is playing a slightly ineffectual character with obvious nods back to his previous roles in “Shaun” and “Hot Fuzz” (getting over a break-up, bad at jumping obstacles, etc). There is a fun cameo from an A-list Hollywood actress, which is a surprise if it’s not been spoiled for you already, but even this harks back to a similar trick from the aforementioned “Hot Fuzz”. Frost only shares one brief scene with Pegg, and he mostly supplies an extended cameo for a sub-plot that is never really explored.  It’s understandable that they wouldn’t “team-up” in the narrative, as it would probably be too obvious, but it still seems a shame that they don’t appear together more often. 

As for the plot itself, it does feel a little scatter-gun in many ways, with the humour mostly going for “Carry On” levels (fart gags and penis jokes). This sits uneasily alongside a storyline about someone being bullied by the school asshole with terrible consequences, which traumatises another character. There’s a serious point to be made there, but when you include that with scenes of a young pupil being handcuffed to a sink or pushed down the stairs in a trunk (both of which are played for laughs), it kind of loses its validity. Slightly lame and obvious puns like “Goodbye Mr. Chips” or “This is Sparta” don’t really cut the mustard either. But there are some genuinely funny sequences (the tazer scene, the Skoda getaway, etc.) although most of them have been showcased in the trailer already. Cracking one-liners only start to appear when the underground shits start hitting the fan, and when the protagonists encounter a Latin-themed orgy held by the Upper Sixth (“We're going to let them run our fucking country?”). The design on the subterranean creatures is actually pretty good as well. They look like the Terror Dogs from “Ghostbusters”, but ‘roided-out and with longer necks and rat-like features. When they attack it’s actually intense in places, and enables the SFX crew to provide some good and gory kills. Limbs are torn off, there’s a neat severed head gag, and one character is torn in half… but doesn’t realise for a moment. It’s all groovy stuff, but it does feel like more homage to the “Cornetto Trilogy” in certain scenes. Someone is pulled apart in front of an open window, a cricket bat is highlighted as a possible weapon, and you get the idea with that. There are cool moments that stand out; the total destruction of one creature is great for gooey reasons, and the tunnel scenes are effectively claustrophobic. It’s fun monster horror stuff to be sure, but it never feels outstanding or as innovative as it could have been. 

At one point a character fires an air rifle at a picture of Malcom McDowell (in a scene from the previously mentioned “If”). It’s a neat little Easter egg, but it does highlight the shortcomings of the film itself. The satirical elements are never sharp or funny enough to be as effective as that film. The monster scenes are cool enough, but not enough to make it stand out in the genre as something special. Bar one or two excellent sequences, the overall tone is pretty workmanlike. It’s certainly not a terrible film, and is actually well-made. It’s just never as funny or as scary as you would like. Fans of the “Cornetto Trilogy” are likely to be disappointed, although it’s unfair to compare SR to those movies. So whilst “Slaughterhouse” doesn’t deserve detention, it certainly won’t get merit marks… 

Despite some great creature design, exemplary location work, and a talented cast, SR feels like it could have been so much better. The funniest moments are mostly in the trailer and the satirical elements are never biting enough. The monsters are cool but not used enough, despite contributing to some atmospheric scenes.
Not terrible, but not great. Report says “must do better”… 
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