The first film from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s production company is a mixture of horror-comedy, public school manners and anti -fracking parable. If that sounds like an unlikely brew, it actually works well albeit with a few editing and character issues. Slaughterhouse public school luxuriates in its own grounds and woodlands; in the latter a fracking operation has begun disturbing the ground and whatever is living underneath them. Through new starter Northern lad Don (Finn Cole) we discover the sort of harsh, humiliating ritual you might expect from such an establishment, probably drawn from director and co- writer Crispian Mills’ own experiences at Stowe boarding school where alot of this film was shot. A sign of Mills’ aspirations for the film might be a photo of Malcolm McDowell from the iconic If… spotted early on and while this film is also something of a hybrid of genres it’s a different beast.
Don is given Willoughby Blake (Asa Butterfield) as a room mate and soon discovers his predecessor committed suicide due to the rigours of the establishment. At this point you’re not sure which direction the film will take especially when we are introduced to the Headmaster (Michael Sheen). Nicknamed the Bat due to his frequent wafting of his teacher’s gown, Sheen at first appears something of a demonic figure though turns out to be hiding a more down to earth complicity with the fracking operation. The film certainly nails its colours to the mast in opposing fracking gleefully depicting an enormous gothic metal tower belching flames which wouldn’t be out of place in a Terry Gilliam film. The blame for disturbing very dangerous creatures – rather like devilish sea lions- is placed squarely on the drilling courtesy of a sinkhole it creates. However the subject is timely and if you read some of the reports into the operation the film isn’t always a far fetched as you might imagine, creatures aside!
At times the narrative does feel overcrowded especially the first half hour due to having to introduce so many people. Despite another winning performance from Nick Frost as the protestors’ leader, an anti fracking group’s presence seems superfluous to the overall film in the end. And when it reaches the climactic final half hour there are too many people struggling for survival meaning sometimes supposed leads Dom and Will get lost in the action.
The monsters are very good and surprisingly vicious; once they emerge the pace ramps up via several well staged and filmed action beats. Crispian Mills is a director who clearly knows how to make the best of his locations some of his shots adding an epic feel to what is actually a low budget movie. During a tense climax, he is able to squeeze maximum jeopardy from some narrow underground tunnels. While the film isn’t as overly comedic as billed there are some amusing sequences notably of two fracking officials whose depiction is a delightfully funny parody. One scene where they scare off Don and Will is the funniest in the movie.
There’s also a good balance of more serious material. Will’s story –though it has a predictable reveal you’ll spot a mile off- is delivered skillfully by Asa Butterfield adding unexpected ballast to frothy proceedings elsewhere. Both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have prominent supporting roles, the former as a nervy lovelorn teacher, the latter as the grizzled protestor’s leader while Michael Sheen is fun as the head. Also enjoying himself is Tom Rhys -Harris playing a military obsessed sixth former who makes Don and Will’s life hell. The only real two prominent female characters are sixth former Clemence (Hermione Corfield) who provides a potential love interest for Dom and an ancient matron who seems to have wandered in from a zombie film. This is very much a male film personified when for some reason Clemence has to remove most of her clothing to despatch a monster.
Slaughterhouse Rulez delivers some strong comic scenes, excellent action sequences punctuated by well observed character moments and a likeable cast and if it persuades some people to look into the real life fracking issue then it will have done a public service too.