BOYZ IN THE WOOD / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: NINIAN DOFF / STARRING: RIAN GORDON, LEWIS GRIBBEN, VIRAJ JUNEJA, SAMUEL BOTTOMLEY, EDDIE IZZARD, GEORGIE GLEN, KATE DICKIE, KEVIN GUTHRIE, JAMES COSMO / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Dean, Duncan and, ahem, DJ Beatroot are a trio of teen delinquents sent to the Highlands on the Duke of Edinburgh Award in the hope of rehabilitating their behaviour after they blew up a public toilet. They are joined in the endeavour by Ian, sheltered, homeschooled and friendless, who just wants the experience of real teamwork. Unfortunately for the boys, a pair of masked and armed aristocrats are stalking the moors, bent on removing what they see as worthless undesirables.
Boyz in the Wood is many things packed into a mere 87 minutes: an exciting low budget action thriller, a compelling look at young male friendship and a sharp meditation on contemporary youth prospects. But most significantly, it's also very, very funny.
Much of the humour is mined from the interaction between the central quartet. None of them are especially bright, and as the boys blunder over the wilderness and survive through obstinate determination, their flawed but oddly compelling logic, and sheer blind luck, you become genuinely fearful of how they will manage to permanently escape their upper-class pursuers.
Several running jokes pepper the action, such as a runaway minibus, a lump of tar mistaken for a block of hash, and hallucinogenic rabbit droppings, but none are focused on to the extent that they dominate, leaving plenty of space for drawing humour out of the inherent ridiculousness of the over the top situations and the dim-witted exploits of the various characters who nevertheless remain endearing.
Many filmmakers would have been tempted to portray the boys as mindless chavs, but their brash exteriors hide insecurities about their place in the world, along with how much they can expect of themselves and how much other people can expect of them. It’s also a refreshing change to not have a character like Ian be ridiculed by the others for his enthusiasm about activities they couldn’t care less about, and instead they try to draw him out of his isolation and make him a part of the group.
Some variety in character comedy comes from a sub-plot involving the largely ineffectual local police who rather than addressing the commotion instead ponder whether they might better devote their time and resources to searching for a relentless thief plundering the region of all its precious bread, along with an assortment of middle-aged farmers who act like partying teenagers.
Amidst its black humour and bonding amidst life and death altercations, there is also a streak of social commentary running through the film examining the state of society. The ageing hunters represent past generations who resent the teenagers for their very existence, while the young people are just trying to survive as best they can while trapped in a situation their elders have created but refuse to take responsibility for. The perspective is spelled out near the end, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of the embittered observations.
Boyz in the Wood is an alchemical concoction of many ingredients, but they all mix together to become a transmuted whole that transcends each of its facets to become a sharply witty and consistently funny journey of personal discovery for each of its characters.