Review: Slaughterhouse Rulez (2018)

Slaughterhouse Rulez is a game of two halve two halves, delivering drama, blood and plenty of comedy

With an unexpected space opening at an esteemed boarding school Slaughterhouse, Don Wallace (Finn Cole) reluctantly attends but finds that his reservations regarding the school are founded. Built on a social structure of hierarchy and school traditions, where the students are groomed for power and greatness, he immediately finds himself at the bottom of the chain and aligned with the other social outcasts.

Despite befriending roommate Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield) who is more welcoming than most, it is Clemsie Lawrence (Hermione Corfield) who captures Don’s attention. Unfortunately, this does not go unnoticed by headboy Clegg (Tom Rhys Harries) who develops an instant disliking towards Don and sets out to make his time at Slaughterhouse a miserable one.

Whatever Clegg has planned however does not compare to what is suddenly released from a sinkhole, which was created by a fracking operation taking place in the woodlands of the school. As the pack of hungry subterranean monsters begin to emerge it leaves the remaining teachers and students with no option but to fight for survival.

Slaughterhouse Rulez in a new horror-comedy from co-writer and director Crispian Mills which feels like a cross between the classic boarding school drama If…. (1968) and the action-packed invasion comedy Attack the Block (2011). The two contrasting films influencing respective ends of the film, which apart from being connected by the pupils and the clever humour of the script are very different in the execution.

The first half surprisingly uncovers a more thought-provoking tone to the film than I was initially expecting. In addition to taking a satirising look at the hierarchy structure and social grooming within the school, it takes a look at the impact the structure has on pupils. Dealing not only with new boy Don who doesn’t seem to fit  within the social standing, but also Willoughby who we learn has deeper issues relating to events in the school. I would like to have seen this explored more, but as the film goes on the more light-hearted comedy in the story gradually takes over, and these initial events are almost ignored in the second half of the film.  It is nice however to see that they tried to add something extra to the structure of the film.

Something else which director Crispian Mills looks to put emphasis on throughout the first half of the film is the film’s influences, If… being one of the most prominent with numerous nods throughout. Fans of the Lindsay Anderson classic will be able to pick up on the not so subtle reference, with the most blatant involving Asa’s character Willoughby, whose rebellious temperament is not dissimilar to Malcolm McDowell in If…. This includes one particular scene in which Willoughby is given a pellet gun to hide, after taking the rifle we later see him shooting a picture of Malcolm McDowell from the original film, which is displayed in a collage on his wall.

I like the way the film takes its time to introduce the characters, although a lot of the issues which are uncovered in the first half of the film are quickly forgotten once the monsters make their presence known. The film suddenly has a huge shift in focus, escalating into an action-packed creature feature where the students are forced to fight for survival. The blood thirsty carnage is delivered with a very tongue-in-cheek humour as are the performances, which probably allowed the film to obtain a 15 certificate.

A lot of the comedy in the first half at least is derived from the two veteran actors in the school’s faculty. Simon Pegg is amusing as the distraught Meredith Houseman, who is inconsolable following the departure of fellow teacher Audrey (Margot Robbie), whilst  Michael Sheen is on brilliant form as the eccentric self-absorbed headmaster The Bat. A character who Michael seems to have incorporated elements of his previous role as Tony Blair with his performance.

The students themselves have the varying traits that you would expect, with the usual alliances forming when the monsters start to attack. From the main group Finn Cole does a good job in the film’s lead as the likeable Don, whose more modest background leaves him feeling out-of-place in the school. Hermione Corfield also manages to stand out in the film as Don’s love interest Clemsie Lawrence, although her character could have been developed a lot more than it was. It is, however, Asa Butterfield who manages to deliver an impressive performance once again the film as Willoughby Blake. Although, history regarding his character is never fully explored, there is an emotional depth to his character which really draws you in.

With Simon Pegg and Nick Frost again united (although not on screen), you can’t help but think back to the Blood and Cornetto trilogy. Coming across with the humour, and even in some of the editing, you feel there’s a nod to Edgar Wright, just with a b-monster movie feel.

The monsters themselves look quite effective and once they make an appearance you do get to see quite a fair bit of them on screen, with an effective mixture of Prosthetic and CGI, which works well. They look like a cross between a prehistoric lizard and the dog monsters from ghost busters. So, although they don’t look very scary, they prove to be effective once they start to attack. It may not have the most graphic kills, but with the flying limbs and awkward rather than tense moments of peril, the film manages to create some memorable kills.

The film does at times seem to spoon feed the audience, often reiterating points which have already been established only a few scenes before. Although, this is often unnecessary, the constant references early on in the film where the characters are unwittingly referring to the future events works well as it builds up to the inevitable onslaught we know is coming.  Nick Frost does this perfectly in his first scene as the somewhat schizophrenic humanitarian Woody, whose personality sways between friend and foe. Eventually finishing the scene with a fairly accurate, “That hole is a gateway. And it leads, straight down, to hell. Now, who wants to buy some drugs?”

While the pacing could have been improved by introducing the monsters earlier, the cast performance and consistent humour throughout means that Slaughterhouse Rulez is still a fun entertaining horror-comedy which still manages to deliver something a little bit different to the normal creature feature.

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