There’s a lot of residual goodwill in the air for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the wake of the iconic Edgar Wright-directed ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ and hopes have been high that the magic might be about to rekindled in this new seasonal horror movie offering, the first fruits of Pegg and Frost’s Stolen Picture production company. Slaughterhouse Rulez isn’t a bad film but it isn’t - and was surely never intended to be - the great comedy-horror reunion many might have been anticipating; lower your expectations (quite considerably) and you might have fun with it, even if you’ll never stop hankering for the glory days of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and, to a lesser extent, The World’s End.
Don Wallace (Cole) is press-ganged by his mother into enrolling into the prestigious (if unlikely named) Slaughterhouse private boarding school in the wilds of Gloucestershire. It’s an esteemed place of learning but tough, brutal and, it seems, is harbouring some strange secrets. Cole shares rooms with Willoughby Blake (Butterfield) whose previous roommate died the year before in mysterious circumstances. A nearby fracking site (ooh, topical!) uncovers a sinkhole in the nearby woods and – eventually – savage, monstrous walrus-like creatures spill out from the chasm at dead of night and head for the school grounds.
Slaughterhouse Rulez is an odd, uneven and ultimately unsatisfying film. Director/co-writer Crispian Mills (for whom the film marks a significant quality step-up from A Fantastic Fear of Everything, his previous dire collaboration with Pegg) seems to have vague aspirations towards crafting some sort of parody or critique of the class system and the rampant ugliness and cruelty of the archaic British boarding school tradition, but doesn’t really quite know what he wants to say or where he wants to go.
The first hour of the film is weirdly paced, scenes at the fracking station hinting at something nasty and supernatural lurking beneath the surface, but the school narrative – a sort of sweary Tom Brown’s Schooldays – takes an age to gain any momentum. Cole struggles to fit into the harsh regime at Slaughterhouse; he clashes with bully Clegg (Tom Rhys-Harries), takes a fancy to Clemsie Lawrence (Corfield), and finds that his roommate has his own demons to deal with. The Headmaster (Sheen) is a little on the eccentric side and housemaster Meredith Houseman (Pegg) is distracted by a recently-ended relationship. There’s a lot bubbling away in Slaughterhouse Rulez but, fatally, none of it’s especially funny. The jokes are lame, laboured and signposted or just not funny, and the meat of the story – the creatures emerging from the sinkhole – takes far too long to arrive to finally kick the film out of its torpor. It’s ultimately rescued by its last half-hour where it gains some momentum, displays a bit of vim and delivers a few frenetic and bloody set pieces as the creatures – nicely designed and realised – descend upon the school and disrupt a lakeside upper sixth form orgy.
Despite its considerable problems, there’s some worthwhile stuff here. The resolution of Blake’s former roommate’s fate isn’t quite what we might have expected given the nature of the film, there are a couple of nods to the Cornetto Trilogy (characters are dragged through windows kicking and screaming, Pegg launches into action with a cricket bat and on one occasion seems to be enjoying a frozen confection which looks strangely familiar) and Sheen’s Headmaster is buoyantly bonkers. But ultimately it’s a fairly pedestrian, clunky film which needs a much sharper, slicker script worthy of a cast which gives what it’s been offered as much gusto and enthusiasm as they can muster. Oh, and that Pegg/Frost reunion; blink and you’ll miss one very brief scene which just reminds us how good they’ve previously been together in much better movies. Slaughterhouse doesn’t exactly rule but it’ll just about do.
SLAUGHTERHOUSE RULEZ / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: CRISPIAN MILLS / SCREENPLAY: CRISPIAN MILLS, HENRY FITZHERBERT / STARRING: ASA BUTTERFIELD, FINN COLE, HERMIONE CORFIELD, MICHAEL SHEEN, SIMON PEGG, NICK FROST / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW