I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
What are they gonna do, eat you alive?” So jokes the mother (Jo Hartley: Prevenge, Eddie the Eagle) of the new boy at Slaughterhouse, an elite British public school (ie in the US, fancy private school). Don Wallace (Finn Cole) is working-class, definitely not the sort of kid who typically ends up at a place like Slaughterhouse, which consumes the offspring of privileged posh families and shits out self-centered conservative politicians and profit-above-all CEOs. Don is right to be worried that he won’t fit in: the moment he arrives, he becomes the target of the horrific abusive bullying of sixth-former (ie, upperclassman) and “school god” Clegg (Tom Rhys Harries).
Mom’s joke is, like so much else in Slaughterhouse Rulez, so vigorously, winkingly Ironic that it becomes an unintentional rip on the movie itself: pointing out its own pointless obviousness is about all it has. They might actually eat Don alive… or at least drive him to suicide, as they did another student, whose absence is why there is an opening for Don in the first place. Or maybe the massive sinkhole that has opened up on the school grounds, the result of nearby fracking, will unleash nightmare monsters that will eat Don alive. Nightmare monsters that are hardly worse than those the school itself is producing.
Yeah, Slaughterhouse Rulez is meant to be a comedy, but no one here knows how to make the dark satire it is supposedly aiming for work. Not producers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; this is the first movie from their new production company, Stolen Picture. Not director and cowriter (with Luke Passmore and Henry Fitzherbert) Crispian Mills; he is also responsible for the dreadful 2012 Pegg vehicle A Fantastic Fear of Everything, another black-comedy misfire. The entirety of this unfunny, unscary mess is a series of missed opportunities to genuinely send up sociopathic class structures and the “unelected imperialism” of fracking company TerraFrack, the head of which is a former Slaughterhouse student and onetime school roommate of the current headmaster (Michael Sheen: Brad’s Status, Home Again). The height of the film’s attempts at satire is the destined-for-power Clegg, who quotes Caligula approvingly and is said to hail “from a long line of war criminals.” And yet there is surely more than one actual student at actual British public schools to whom this might actually apply. It’s not satire if it’s actually happening. Simply depicting reality does not constitute commentary on it.
So, then: The sinkhole. The monsters. Here Rulez falls down, too. With its thin and frequently incoherent plot, it doesn’t even get to the blood-and-guts brand of horror for a solid hour; sorry, but no one came to see a lot of teen-boy dick measuring and adolescent jockeying for status, school drama the likes of which we’ve seen plenty often before, and which is presented in no fresh way here. (The movie wastes Asa Butterfield [Journey’s End, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children] as Don’s new roommate and friend, as well as Pegg [Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ready Player One] as a pathetic Slaughterhouse teacher.) And then, despite the apparent signposting of anti-fracking activist Woody (Frost: Tomb Raider, The Huntsman: Winter’s War), who ominously warns of the sinkhole as “a portal, a gateway [that] leads straight to hell,” there’s nothing supernatural in the beasts: they’re not demons, just previously unknown subterranean animals. (They’d been hinted at in stories of the school’s centuries-long history; this element is also utterly uncapitalized on.) They’re toothy and dangerous, sure, but their attacks are few and often visually unintelligible, and nothing more than the stuff of a cheap creature feature that should have stayed retro. Rulez isn’t even cheesy: that would require some passion, which is completely lacking here.
It’s as if the movie was so afraid that it might be beating a metaphor to death that it didn’t bother to actively deploy the metaphor at all. And yet beating a metaphor from that other, better story about the rich privileged as hellbeasts is about as much violent intrigue as Slaughterhouse Rulez ever manages. Watching mean posh gits get torn to pieces should be a helluva lot more fun than this.
A shorter version of this review appeared first at The List.