Cast: Asa Butterfield, Finn Cole, Hermione Corfield, Michael Sheen, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg. Directed by: Crispian Mills.
Occasionally in cinema, there will be a time where you see a film and it’ll be fine, not great, not awful but perfectly watchable, and you’ll come to realize that the filmmaker should have been doing something else the whole time.
Slaughterhouse Rulez is the first film produced by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg’s new production company Stolen Pictures, and features supporting roles from them both. The film itself, directed and co-written by Crispian Mills best known as the front man of indie rock band Kula Shaker and directing the little seen Simon Pegg starer A Fantastic Fear of Everything brings us this film.
Mills comes with an unfortunate amount of expectation based solely on his family. Mills is the son of Roy Boulting, one half of the Boulting brothers who made Brighton Rock and The Family Way as a producing / directing pair while his mother Hayley Mills was the star of the original The Parent Trap, and his grandfather is legendary actor Sir John Mills.
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The weight of British history clearly looms over Mills, as this horror-comedy plays into various stereotypes. Set in an upper-class private school slaughterhouse, the film follows new-kid Finn Cole, a common northern student who joins the school and finds it has sold its land to a fracking company.
Despite its trappings, this film never truly captures the horror, and often doesn’t particularly want to be a horror film. At its best, Mills seems like a man who is looking to direct a film adaptation of the Rockstar game Bully (also known as Cannis Canem Edit).
Its positive notes are that the portrayal of the remote castle-like school works well, and gives us vague glimpses into the ongoing hierarchy of the school. The idea of the houses all being illusions to gods except the downtrodden Sparta is a good idea that could be explored.
The film’s overarching themes work well; the class warfare is well played if a little over the top, but it doesn’t always work very well. The near-fanatical Tom Rhys-Harries as the head boy of Sparta is a funny villainous role, but there’s also a fun underplaying of the idea that whilst they act like thugs, the prefects are also snobs and toffs.
The cast work very well together, with Asa Butterfield given the juiciest role as outcasted smart-ass Willoughby Blake, part Malcolm McDowell fanboy, part avenging angel, there’s a missing link to it which is an underlying subplot, feeling more radical than it comes across. It feels like there was more to his role as the expert on the place that never went anywhere.
Cole and Hermoine Corfield do quite well with their undercooked romance subplot, but it never really feels like the two have any chemistry and any chance of a class-warfare love story is undercut by the semi-comic actions of Corfield’s friend Isabella Laughland.
The older actors Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Michael Sheen are all clearly enjoying themselves, and none more so than Sheen who plays his role with a hint of evil and an over-the-top theatricality that is all too easy to enjoy. But they distract from the main plot, and the overly comic interludes underpin the children-centric subplots.
Even so, when the horror kicks in and a sink hole unleashes evil monsters on the school theres gory fun to be had, and there’s some nice knowing lines of dialogue (supermassive frack hole is a particularly highlight) but the laughs outweigh the scares which only seek to point out the issues with the film itself.
Had this been a film version of the videogame Bully, then perhaps the touchstones of the genre such as If… wouldn’t feel quite so out of place or silly, and even the Edgar Wright references wouldn’t hit as so out of place because they weren’t missing the scary bits. Even so, there’s fun to be had along the way.