Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are a dream team unlike any other, gifting us mirth, merriment, and heart in the likes of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, all the way back to the still hugely underrated TV series, Spaced. The duo’s partnership with Edgar Wright has proven especially fruitful, and it’s perhaps the great director’s input that’s missing in Slaughterhouse Rulez, the latest Pegg-Frost team-up, and the first offering from their joint production company, Stolen Pictures.
First off, if you’re thinking the name “Slaughterhouse” is a joke brainstormed by frustrated pupils bored with lessons, think again. The actual school in the movie is called Slaughterhouse, leading our ostensible hero, Don (charisma vacuum Finn Cole, of Peaky Blinders fame) to ask his mother why he’d want to go there. Good question! If someone invited me to attend Massacre Academy, I reckon I’d probably decline. Especially if, like Don, I looked about 25 and had a midlands accent so pronounced it’s like I’ve wandered off the set of Emmerdale.
Still, as his mother enthuses, “they’ve got their own army!” (is that a good thing in England?) and the grounds look pretty sweet (Stowe School, where the movie was filmed, does genuinely seem pretty cool), so what’s the worst that could happen? Well, for one thing, there’s the Draco Malfoy-looking fellow, whose dye job is about as bad as his insults, Don’s insufferably pessimistic roommate (Asa Butterfield, who’s much better in Sex Education, thankfully), and the stories of monsters lurking right beneath their feet.
Why, what’s this? It’s Michael Sheen, hamming it up as the principal in a cloak that would make Severus Snape swoon. And here’s Simon Pegg, doing his posh, stick-in-the-mud thing as a lovelorn teacher pining for the girlfriend he should’ve run away with (played by a big-name Aussie actress who quite literally Skypes her performance in — and good for her). Just outside the school-grounds is our old pal Nick Frost, playing an environmental protestor with a big, and very obvious secret connection to the school saved for a final act reveal that adds…nothing (tell us if a character is important, we can handle it).
Slaughterhouse Rulez is a disappointingly dull, yet at times totally bizarre little film. I mentioned Harry Potter several times because, in many ways, this movie strives to be like it. There’s the setting — a massive boarding school — the robes, the traditions, the classically trained English thespians doing their bit, and of course the otherworldly elements. What sets it apart from that kids’ fantasy masterpiece is the lack of any charm, wit, or general point of view. Even the school’s backstory isn’t as good as, say, the tale of the fraternity in Neighbors (The Lonely Island makes everything better).
To be clear, watching Michael Sheen swanning about the place in a big ol’ cloak while carting around an adorable pup will never not be great (the high council of gayness will see you now), but Slaughterhouse Rulez needs much more of it to make up for the lack of anything else entertaining. The film is so tonally inconsistent, taking in everything from dick jokes to a kid’s suicide, monsters, bullies, a teenage orgy, and even a fracking story-line which, while topical, is completely out of place and woefully underdeveloped, it never manages to hit any of its marks.
Who is this movie even for? It can’t be for kids, because there’s tons of swearing and also the aforementioned Dionysian debauchery (which, by the way, involves the most ill-advised joke about fingering this side of Kingsman: The Golden Circle). It’s not technically satire either, because there aren’t nearly enough jokes and, when there are, they have zero payoff or commentary. The screenplay, credited to three(!) different dudes, feels more like a bunch of public school jokes with a movie holding them up.
Slaughterhouse Rulez is kind of like Attack The Block but with poshos, except it isn’t even as good as that description would suggest. None of the choices make any sense, from Don’s quip-happy mom, who disappears a third of the way through once he spots a lady he fancies (Hermione Corfield, who killed it in this year’s Rust Creek and is utterly wasted here), to the music cue to The Clash’s “I Fought The Law,” which soundtracks the kids’ arrival on the first day of school — huh? It made more sense when Colin Farrell covered that song in a fake north Dublin accent for Intermission, and that was completely disgraceful.
The creature attacks, when they finally happen, are nicely nasty and reasonably well done but the gore is surprisingly minimal and, as usual, the CGI beasties are more effective when barely glimpsed or heard rather than fully realized. It doesn’t help that Cole’s Don is an empty shell of a character, and Butterfield is the most irritating onscreen presence, the kind of kid you’re hoping will perish in the final act because he’s that bloody annoying. Only Corfield emerges unscathed mostly because, as a woman, she’s not given much to do in the first place.
Most frustrating of all, of course, is the fact Slaughterhouse Rulez boasts so little of that Pegg-Frost magic we desperately crave. The two barely appear onscreen together, which is blasphemous for a Pegg-Frost joint produced by their own damn production company. It’s understandable they wanted to cede the attention to the kids but considering not one of the younger lot is likeable aside from the luminous Corfield, surely it would’ve made more sense to involve Frost, Pegg, and even Sheen to a greater extent in order to paper over the increasingly visible cracks.
A waste of a lot of great talent, and a waste of your time, should you choose to watch it.
Wicked Rating: 4/10
Director(s): Crispian Mills
Writer(s): Crispian Mills, Henry Fitzherbert, Luke Passmore
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Michael Sheen, Asa Butterfield, Finn Cole, Hermione Corfield
Release date: May 17, 2019 (Digital, select theaters), June 18 (DVD)
Studio/Production Company: Stolen Pictures
Run Time: 104 minutes