'Boyz in the Wood': Film Review | SXSW 2019

Patrick Meller
It perks up once they start eating rabbit droppings.

Music video director Ninian Doff's debut watches as four teens on a wilderness trek try to evade the Scotsman intent on killing them.

A Boy Scout-like challenge becomes a brogue-filled Most Dangerous Game in Boyz in the Wood, an action comedy by first-time feature director Ninian Doff. As four city boys try to escape a mysterious huntsman, the Highlands' rinky-dinkiest police force trails behind, failing spectacularly to provide assistance. A too-familiar vibe hangs over much of the film, whose comic violence is nothing new and whose banter underwhelms, but the pic gets more fun as it goes, especially after an unlikely hallucinogen makes its entrance.

One member of this expedition wants to be here: Ian (Samuel Bottomley), a rule-following sort, even has a checklist on a lanyard as he attempts to win the Duke of Edinburgh Award — a team-building exercise in which the group must hike solo through the wilderness and emerge, two days later, at the Scottish coast. But Ian's saddled with three bad-boy teammates, a trio of friends who have no patience for his eagerness: They're the alpha-lad Dean (Rian Gordon), dim-witted Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and "DJ Beetroot" (Viraj Juneja), a would-be rap star who doesn't realize his all-white ensemble is no match for the muck.

Saying goodbye to the adult sponsor (Jonathan Aris) who's meant to meet them at the end, they wander off, three-quarters of the group more interested in smoking weed than figuring out which direction is north. Soon, though, they realize they're being stalked by a fancy-dressed rifleman (Eddie Izzard) in an unsettling mask. A woman (Georgie Glen) soon joins him, and the pursuit of "The Dukes" soon focuses the kids on survival.

Managing to get a quick call for help out amid the chaos, the kids attract the attention of local cops whose biggest interest at the moment is catching a thief who has stolen all the bread from all the markets in the region. If that sounds like a pretty lazy way to signal how backwards the locals are, well, Doff's screenplay is often kind of dim, rarely providing funny enough things for its capable-seeming castmembers to say and sometimes having their characters make distractingly dumb choices. When the boys wind up with a van at their disposal, for instance, they don't use it to escape — they stage a fake wreck in an attempt to cover up something that could get them in trouble with the law.

Midway through, someone mentions that local rabbits feed on a plant that makes their droppings a powerful hallucinogen. You can bet there'll be a lot of shite-eating from here on out, and happily, it's accompanied by a big addition to the cast of characters. Drugged-up local farmers get involved in the battle with the Dukes; not only are they enormously helpful, they also may be the only people in the U.K. who find Beetroot's rap skills impressive.

The pace picks up from here, with Doff using some of the chops he honed making music videos to inject the film with some altered-states energy. A growing theme of class warfare emerges, in which the upper crust hopes to "cull" some of their social inferiors from the gene pool. While the Dukes' side of things is always too jokey to matter much, their supporters' arrival does help tie the plot up in a bow.

Production companies: Material Pictures, Highland Midgie
Cast: Eddie Izzard, Kate Dickie, James Cosmo, Kevin Guthrie, Jonathan Aris, Alice Lowe, Samuel Bottomley, Viraj Juneja, Rian Gordon, Lewis Gribben
Director-screenwriter: Ninian Doff
Producers: Matthew Plouffe, Tobey Maguire, Brian Coffey, Laura Tunstall
Executive producers: Eddie Izzard, Richard Weinberg, Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa
Director of photography: Patrick Meller
Production designer: Tom Sayer
Costume designer: Nancy McKenna
Editors: Ross Hallard, Ninian Doff
Composers: Alex Menzies, S-Type
Casting directors: Colin Jones, Toby Spigel
Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Midnighters)
Sales: Endeavor

86 minutes