An English boy joins an elite but crumbling bordering school, where ancient evil stalks underground and threatens the posh student body.
Director: Crispin Mills
Writers: Crispin Mills (screenplay, story), Henry Fitzherbert (screenplay, story), & Luke Passmore (story)
Starring: Finn Cole, Asa Butterfield, Tom Rhys Harries, Simon Pegg, Michael Sheen, Margot Robbie
Slaughterhouse Rulez (2018) is an interesting blend of black comedy, high school mischief, and subterranean creature-feature. Writer/Director Crispin Mills (A Fantastic Fear of Everything) helms the director’s chair for a second time, Henry Fitzherbert (Born a King 2019) helps on script and story in his feature debut, and Luke Passmore (The Day 2011) also lends his talents to the story. Packed with a solid and surprisingly adept cast, this genre mish-mash succeeds in being entertaining and charming despite an unclear focus and an over-long runtime.
The tale follows high school aged student Don Wallace (Finn Cole, Peaky Blinders series) as he joins a dilapidated but prestigious boarding school where a rigid class system allows student orgies and hazing up the wazoo (maybe literally). If that weren’t bad enough for poor Don, he’s sleeping in a dead student’s bed with nihilistic roommate Willoughby (Asa Butterfield, The Wolfman 2010, Hugo 2011) preaching doom at every turn. Even worse, school head “The Bat” (Michael Sheen, Good Omens series, Tron: Legacy) has licensed a shale fracking enterprise on school property, resulting in foul smells, lakes of fire, and the release of a slew of subterranean slug-seal-shrew creatures hellbent on eating human flesh.
Rounding out the experienced cast is Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead; Run, Fat Boy, Run) as school administrator Meredith Houseman, Tom Rhys Harries (Jekyll & Hyde mini-series 2015) as the brutal and homophobic head-student Clegg, and Margot Robbie (Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, Suicide Squad 2016) in a very brief few scenes as Pegg’s ex-lover, Audrey. There are several other intriguing bit players strung throughout the film who add color, humor, and atmosphere, but the core cast steals the show by delivering the script’s strong dialogue and comedic timing without a hitch.
The setting is appropriately English, and more wonderful is the mix of fantastic animatronics and CGI on the underground beasties who eventually spread the scenery with gore. It’s so nice to see physical creature pieces in a smaller production like this, and it’s startling to see the amount of work and effort on display in a film that boasts some nice names, to boot.
The film’s biggest drawback is it’s pacing, which is hampered by the movie’s reluctance to adhere to a primary genre. The first full half of the film is an excellent boarding-school romp and is completely devoid of horror (save for some foreboding foreshadowing). What’s more, it’s good at playing it straight—the film could have simply been a high-brow teen comedy and survived as such quite well. Halfway in, though, and the film dramatically shifts gears to a Zombieland-style survival film, with severed heads and blood-spray galore. In this area, too, Slaughterhouse Rulez succeeds, but it has a little trouble comparing to the excellent character-building present in the first half. Ultimately, what the failure to adhere to a clear genre results in is a good 20 minutes too much runtime. There could have been several snippets here and there cut with little impact, and it would’ve both improved the pacing and perhaps made the transition from pranks-to-bloody mayhem less abrupt.
On the whole, however, Mills, Fitzherbert and Passmore have crafted a lovingly English creature feature set in the boarding-school world that most of us stateside will find as foreign as the surface of the moon. The creature effects and designs are swell, the acting is top-notch, and the comedy succeeds in spades with humor-vets like Simon Pegg and Michael Sheen on the scene to spice up the youthful escapades. If you’re in the mood for something destined to be a cult classic creature feature, I recommend enrolling in this movie whole-heartedly.