There is a long, proud history of adventure stories that send their young heroes on an expedition in which they must fend for themselves. The Goonies or Stand By Me are classics in this subset of coming of age stories. Music video director Ninian Doff (he is responsible for a few of Miike Snow’s best videos) uses these tropes and beloved movies as a springboard for his feature-length debut, Boyz In The Wood.
Starting with a fake ad for the entirely real Duke of Edinburgh Award, this 1950s style promo informs the audience of the grueling camping trek that the group endures. Troublemakers Duncan (Lewis Gribben), DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), and Dean (Rian Gordon) are all being forced to go on this multi-day hiking trip to “build character,” or they’ll face expulsion; given a choice, they would choose to be expelled.
Once at the start of the trail, the three friends, along with Ian (Samuel Bottomley), who is undertaking this adventure as it will look great on university transcripts are given a map. Then their adult supervisor for the trip, Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris), tells everyone the rules. Off the four teenagers go, only for them to discover that a mad duke (Eddie Izzard) and his deranged wife (Georgie Glen) are hunting them. With no survival skills to speak of and them being much more interested in getting high, it would appear the teens are doomed. Can they use their wits to survive the entire trail, stop from getting killed, and learn to get along?
“Off the four teenagers go, only for them to discover that a mad duke and his deranged wife are hunting them.”
What that plot description cannot get across is the kinetic style and absurd humor that is on full display every second of this 90-minute masterpiece. Mr. Carlyle takes roll call once at the start of the Duke of Edinburgh Award trail. As he calls out each person’s name, the movie uses quick edits, stills, and voiceover to give background and traits to each person. Ian is here as he is sheltered and has a hard time making friends. So his mom wrote to Mr. Carlyle to get him on this trip, in part of because it will look good to higher education institutions but also because she wants him to get along with others. All of this is told to the viewer in 30 seconds, maybe less, and is funny. Now imagine similar things for each of the main characters, as well as the ultimate reason the Duke and the Duchess, are trying to kill the kids.
Doff’s considerable skills are also on display with the tone. Boyz In The Wood is a comedy, through and through, but that does not mean the dangers present do not feel authentic. The villains are a credible threat, despite that the Duke is a terrible shot. An epic sequence, which is sublimely edited courtesy of Ninian Doff and Ross Hallard, highlights where the four teens currently are, as they got separated after being chased by the Duke and Duchess on horseback. Dean and Duncan are in a cave, DJ Beatroot is in a barn, and Ian is in an open field, with just a few ruins to hide behind. The tone for each location is wildly different- Ian’s moments are fraught with intense peril, Dean and Duncan are desperate and trying to formulate a plan, while DJ Beatroot is literally partying. Doff brings each emotion to the forefront during a wild montage incorporating everyone. It is spellbinding and a marvelous display of exceptional craftsmanship.
Thanks to Doff’s very witty script, the characters, who at first glance are stereotypes, emerge as fully formed, empathetic humans. When the core trio admit to Ian that they only become “such good mates” because they are losers and shunned at school, it is a tender moment. The dialogue here not only ensures Ian’s place amongst them but also shows that the “hooligans” are much more reflective and in tune with whom they are than given credit for.
“The greatest strength of Boyz In The Wood is its cast; given how impeccably written and assuredly directed the film is, that is saying quite a lot.”
There are a lot of jokes, gags, and scenes I haven’t even hinted at yet. There is a hilarious moment involving the van that drove the characters to the start of the Duke of Edinburgh Award trail, whose punchline you wait for but is so astoundingly brilliant and well executed it is unbelievable. Moreover, wait until you see everyone tripping balls; you will not stop laughing.
The greatest strength of Boyz In The Wood is its cast; given how impeccably written and assuredly directed the film is, that is saying quite a lot. Juneja’s musings about if his DJ name is good or not are hysterical but when he quips that it took him forever to come with his current alter ego (DJ Beatroot) it is a bit heartbreaking. The actor sells the idea that everything in a teenager’s life is a huge deal, including his stage name, and it’s incredible to watch. As Duncan, Lewis Gribben makes a lot of small physical gestures that capture the affable cluelessness of the character perfectly and also generates huge laughs.
Samuel Bottomley’s turn from shy and timid to rallying cry leader near the end of the film is realized so authentically he creates the heart of the film. Rian Gordon’s character has already determined his future, to be a fish packer, as are his father and older brother. As the film progresses, his true aspirations come to light, and the confidence Gordon projects during this are sublime. Izzard and Glen are having a ball as the demented would be killers and their lamenting that they have become old fogies is oddly sweet turn.
Boyz In The Wood heralds the emergence of a bold, exciting new director in the film world. Ninian Doff balances tones amazingly and directs visually striking scenes with gusto and confidence. His writing subverts expectations while remembering to be a story about humans, all the while being an exciting, nonstop laugh riot. All that makes the film more than worth watching. Then you add this truly outstanding cast who effortlessly embody their characters, and you have nothing short of a masterpiece.
Boyz In The Wood (2019) Directed by Ninian Doff. Written by Ninian Doff. Starring Samuel Bottomley, Rian Gordon, Lewis Gribben, Viraj Juneaj, Eddie Izzard, Georgie Glen, Jonathan Aris, James Cosmo. Boyz In The Wood screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
10 out of 10 Camping Sites