FilmSpace at Edinburgh International Film Festival: Boyz in the Wood

FilmSpace is at the 73rd Edinburgh Film Festival. Film critic Calum Cooper begins the line-up of reviews with his thoughts on this year’s opening film Boyz in the Wood.

It’s a joy and a privilege to be back in Edinburgh for another EIFF, celebrating not only the best of contemporary Scottish cinema, but the diversity and uniqueness of international cinema too. Over the course of the next couple of weeks we’ll be bringing you reviews for several new films being screened. If the opening movie is anything to go by, it’s going to be a great festival.

Boyz in the Wood – ★★★★☆

Boyz in the Wood has a lot more going for it than its synopsis would initially suggest. Joining the likes of last year’s Calibre as another eerie tale set in the Highlands, the film is a sharp, observant satire of the generation gap. Serving as a vehicle for this satire is its lively central plot, which can only be described as the Duke of Edinburgh hike from hell.

Duncan, Dean, and aspiring rapper DJ Beatroot (Lewis Gribbin, Rian Gordon, and Viraj Juneja respectively) are all close friends forced to partake in a D of E hike with the home-schooled Ian (Samuel Bottomley). However, mutual dislike between the boys soon becomes the least of their problems. Before long, they find themselves in trouble. They start off mundane, with a torn map and smuggled drugs. But then they start being pursued by a masked elderly man (Eddie Izzard) wielding a rifle, with an aim to purge the Highlands of teenagers and youthful delinquency. It’s a mental premise in which the four boys have to outwit their would be assassin through increasingly insane, but menacingly riotous means.

Humour and well-paced thrills are the film’s selling points, yet it is not what makes it so enjoyable. The film is in truth a very clever analogy on the generational gap, and the steps that can be made to ensure mutual respect. The older generation of which the gun wielding Eddie Izzard represents are no doubt the villains in this tale, but the film is not mocking the group broadly. Specifically it is calling out the selfish and the entitled within the older generation – the elders who condescendingly tell younger generations how “good” they have it, while simultaneously reaping the benefits of the world their parents created, refusing to bow for anybody who comes after. The ones who cannot see the bigger picture beyond their narrow-minded, and often prejudiced, views of the world, ensuring nothing gainful is left for anyone but them. It’s the mentality that has left us with a crippling cost of living, nationwide lack of ambition, and potential catastrophe in terms of climate change, something that many arrogantly refuse to take responsibility for.

Yet the film also ensures that things can get better with the basic concept of acceptance. The masked man wants to kill the boys because of their hooliganism, something that is youthful, but not permanent. The film argues that if the youth are embraced, flaws and all, then the cycle of resentment will eventually stop. The sooner older generations welcome younger generations and their ideas with open arms, the more the world will strive. Once that respect and openness is given by the elders, the young will return it back by tenfold, something encapsulated brilliantly in the film’s last ten minutes.

Disturbing and screwed up, yet also darkly funny, and more heartfelt than you’d expect, the movie soars whether taken at face value or viewed as an intelligent piece of commentary.

With that said though, even if you examine the film at the surface, it still works thanks to its diversely fun characters and cracking setup. The actors all have wicked chemistry together, riffing off each other with rapid wit and a comfortable sense of selves. They embody the ambitions or lack of motivation within their characters unapologetically, creating banter and laughs, but also a powerful sense of solidarity amongst the group. Whether they start as friends or foes, they’re now in this together and the results delight, humour and terrify.

Ninian Doff’s contributions cannot be ignored either. Making his feature writer-director debut with this film, his job is one of delicate balance, for the film has so much going for it. On top of its furiously abrasive social commentary are juvenile antics of humour between the four boys, the Pagan horrors of their pursuer, the strange goings on of the local community (including an amusing James Cosmo cameo), and a side-plot involving Kate Dickie and Kevin Guthrie as clueless police officers that’s so funny it threatens to steal the whole film.

Thankfully, Doff’s filmmaking allows exploration of the story’s comedic and horror tones intensely. The vast openness and constant sense of exposure within the Highlands heightens the sense of fear drastically, stunningly captured through the cinematography. Meanwhile, the sharpness and tightly written nature of his screenplay ensures that the laughs and the thrills keep on coming. It’s completely unpredictable too, as the character personalities either clash or meld erratically into a smelting pot of atmosphere, laughs, and complete anarchy. No matter how bizarre or ludicrous the film gets, our engagement is securely won, with plenty of charm to spare alongside all its other merits.

Boyz in the Wood is an incredibly strong opening for this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. I had an asbolute blast with it. Disturbing and screwed up, yet also darkly funny, and more heartfelt than you’d expect, the movie soars whether taken at face value or viewed as an intelligent piece of commentary. With so much style and substance to distinguish it amongst Scottish cinema, this is a cult film in the making.

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