Boyz in the Wood Review

Music videos are descriptively rhythm-driven short films, and short films are just precursory pathways to feature filmmaking, so it shouldn’t surprise when directors bounce between mediums. Take Ninian Doff, for instance. The man behind Miike Snow’s “The Trigger” and Royal Blood’s “Figure It Out” (amongst other musician collaborations) makes his full-length debut with the hip-hop-Highlands survival comedy Boyz In The Wood. A divided callback to John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood, a feisty generational satire, and a hot-as-fire warrior’s battlecry that retains musical interlude value all packed into one riotously psychedelic outdoor adventure gone to bloody hell.

Think of it as The Most Dangerous Game on acid, except hunted targets are underprivileged urban youths caught in the gold-plated crosshairs of wealthy dinosaurs. Ah, the thrill of a good “cull the herd!”

Each year, “eager” participants set out to conquer “The Duke Of Edinburgh Award” where children must exhibit teamwork, foraging, and orienteering to reach their coastal finish. Delinquents Duncan (Lewis Gribben), Dean (Rian Gordon) and stage name DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) find themselves “selected” as a team, with wholesome good-boy Ian (Samuel Bottomley) rounding their four-person squad. Leader Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris) drops them in the Scottish Highlands and points them onward, but Ian has his work cut out with the trio of drug-inhaling chucklefucks. To make matters worse, “The Duke” (Eddie Izzard) appears out of nowhere and starts shooting at them with a rifle. Looks like they’ll be earning their laminated certificates the hard way?

You’re right to assume Duncan, Dean, and DJ Beatroot are cut-up hoodlums. Dean smokes tarred chunks of “hash” that explode in his face, Duncan’s critical thinking substitutes hot cocoa powder for food, and DJ Beatroot wears snow-white designer jumpsuits to mountain camping excursions. None are particularly motivated, or resourceful, or textbook intelligent, which throws Ian into many a stressful fit as his squad’s most competent member. We’re talking about boys who download terrorist handbooks for giggles (despite watchlists), slap promotional stickers on tractor tires, and bungle homemade explosive blueprints. On a Tuesday.

Doff’s cockney-slang outcasts are meant to bumble, underachieve, and cock-up every single plan from start to finish. More attentive misfits might not roll an evidence-filled minibus shifted into neutral straight back down the hill they pushed up, for example. Nor would their reaction be “Britain’s an island, it’ll fall off a cliff eventually.” Never the brightest torches in the town mob, but full admission, their karmic swings of luck only make them more entertaining.

Boyz In The Wood tempts narrative fate by introducing madcap story elements outside “The Duke’s” pursuit, yet somehow DJ Beatroot’s supercharged lyrical smackdown ties everything together. Hallucinogenic rabbit shites included. Kate Dickie’s Sergeant Morag enters the fray when her professional thirst for action presents a hotter case than “Bread Thief” infamy, James Cosmo introduces – and hypes – Highlands hillbillies to DJ Beatroot’s sample mix, and zombies somehow become mentioned as a police threat? This is where Doff’s Chemical Brothers experience takes hold.

Rap freestyling scores a supreme climatic pileup that unties all participating parties while cutting between whatever is most interesting at the moment. DJ Beatroot slaying a barnyard crowd, or The Duke’s ritualistic chorus, or Duncan’s and Dean’s spook on Sgt. Morag. Doff doesn’t flinch as intensity ramps and three-dimensional optic tricks bleed anarchy, matching edits to tempo until wavelengths conjoin and drop the most chaotic of breakdowns. Middle fingers high and zero ‘effs given.

Most importantly, Boyz In The Wood is out-of-bounds outrageous “youth gone wild” hilarity. Between Dean’s quest to ingest any mind-alterer possible, Duncan’s bunk ideas, and DJ Beatroot’s egotistical “future of hip hop” swag, actors fuse instant bonds that only harden as scenes pass. Then you introduce Ian – who’s immediately accepted, no hazing phase – and strategic advantages foster an unlikely cohesive team. Between their first hilltop interaction with “The Duke,” Mr. Carlyle’s “cereal” vs. “serial” dialogue jumble, or a defensive mount while Run The Jewels blares, seismic blasts of attitude define Doff’s not-so-woodsy tribe. Never failed by a scorching screenplay that sustains underprivileged vs. elitist classism.

Izzard’s masked and costumed representation of “The Duke” ushers in cultist regality of the utmost sophisticated depravity. A wealthy socialite who believes he’s evening the population by eliminating “vermin” in the form of underbelly dead weight. Accompanied by his sword-waving wife (Georgie Glen), Izzard chases the children on horseback with a Mad Hatter’s laugh. He nails “The Duke’s” expedition gamesmanship and buys into secret society finger-waving with a gun barrel’s final say. An adversary as deranged and twisted the film’s plot, widening the divide between Baby Boomer percentiles and their frustration over millennials “ruining” a perfect world left for inhabitation.

Boyz In The Wood is the hippest, wildest, most energetic genre blowout to come from the UK since Attack The Block. Ninian Doff’s psychotropic color saturation and manipulation of LSD-dream imagery are but one of the many defining factors of this backwoods brawl against societal corruption, but you’re here for the comedy. Alice Lowe’s ciabatta recovery, DJ Beatroot’s rise to farmhand fame, Duncan’s well-sharpened fork. Ridiculous additives to a crazed hiking excursion? Undoubtedly. Necessary components that will be remembered by fun-loving midnight audiences? A handful of oh so very many.

Suffice it to say, I fookin’ love Boyz In The Wood.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Matt is an NYC internet scribe who spends his post-work hours geeking about cinema instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don't feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged).